World War II, Volume 5

CHAPTER 120 The tension grows A The British advan ce-past the grave of a German soldier. The unsavoury gossip about Bradley was nothing to the criticisms made of Mont­gomery regarding the mediocre victories which the British 2nd Army could claim at that time. It had in fact to attack three times and it was not until July 91944 that it was able to announce the capture of Caen its D-Day objective. Of course Montgomery could hardly reveal to the journalists whom he gathered round him for periodical press con­ferences that he had no intention of opening up the route to Paris. Still less could he tell them that his plan aimed first and foremost at forcing Rommel to concentrate his Panzers against the British 2nd Army and wearing them down on this front by a series of purely local actions. Having said this however it maybe said that in this battle of equip­ment Montgomery the master-tactician did not sufficiently bear in mind the enormous technical superiority that Ger­man armour enjoyed over the British and American tanks. If we look again at accounts of the furious battles outfought in the Caen sector in June and July, 1944 all we seem to read about is Sherman tanks burning like torches Cromwell tanks riddled like sieves and Churchill tanks whose armour was considered sufficiently thick never surviving a direct hit. Here for example is part of Major- General Robertss description of Opera­tion "Goodwood” on July 19 and 20. "But 3 R.T.R. were through. They had started with 52 tanks been given 11 replacements making 63 tanks in all. With Bras now in their hands they had nine tanks left. Major Closes A Squadron had lost 17 tanks in two days seven being completely destroyed the others recover­able all Troop officers had been killed or wounded and only one troop Sergeant was 1682 left. The Fife and Forfar had fared rather worse.” In the circumstances it is not surprising that the famous units that had formed part of the 8th Army in North Africa (the 50th and 51st Infantry Divisions and the 7th Armoured Division) did not have the success expected of them in this new theatre of operations. Writing of these veterans of Bir Hakeim Tobruk Eland Alamein Belfield and Essame remind us of the old saying current in the British Arm y-"A n old soldier is a cautious soldier that is why he is an old soldier.” Quite probably. But perhaps the hiding the Desert Rats received at Villers- Bocage on July 12 when they first came into contact with the 2nd Panzer Division, was such as to make even the most reckless prudent. As for the 12 British divisions which came under fire for the very first time in Normandy however realistic their train­ing may have been however keen they may have been to fight the real thing was very different and the conditions they were called upon to face in real combat sometimes took away some of their aggressiveness. It is also possible to criticise the British High Command for the tendency in its instructions to try to foresee everything, even the unforeseeable. Having seen orders issued by the main American commanders we know that they sub­scribed to the same theory as the Ger­mans that the order should contain all that the lesser commander needs to know to carryout his task but nothing more whereas British orders tended togo into further detail limiting the initiative of the tactical commanders because of theoretical situations that did not always arise. For in war it is said it is the un­expected that happens. In this list of Montgomerys resources, an honourable mention must be made of the artillery for which Rommels grena­diers had a special dislike for it fired quickly and Inaccurately. particular the 25-pounder "gun-howitzer” fired so rapid­ly that the Germans thought it must have been fitted with a system of automatic loading. And this fact goes along way to explain the form which the fighting took in the Caen sector for if the British tanks A British Shermans in open country. By maintaining the strongest possible pressure on the Caen front Montgomery planned to pull the bulk of the German armour away from the American sector of the front. 1683
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