World War II, Volume 5

south-west, he would finally reach Brette- ville-sur-Laize, ten miles south of Caen, near the C aen-F alaise road. This would give the British 2nd Army not only the capital of Normandy, but also the Car- piquet air base, upon which Air-Marshals Coningham and Leigh-Mallory had long been casting envious eyes. VIII Corps had 60,000 men, 600 tanks, and 700 guns. The 15th and 43rd D ivi­ sions, each reinforced by a brigade of Churchill tanks, provided O’Connor with his shock troops, whilst the 11th Armoured Division would then exploit the situa­ tion. For all three divisions it was their first taste of combat. W hilst the left wing of XXX Corps attacked the Panzer- "Lehr” Division, VIII Corps’ attack brought it into contact with the 12th S.S. Panzer D ivision "Hitler- ju gen d”, commanded, since the death of General Witt, by General Kurt Meyer, a leader of extreme resolution, of rapid and correct decisions, whom his men had nicknamed "Panzer-Meyer”. By nightfall, at the price of fierce combat and despite incessant counter-attacks, the British infantry was able to bed down near the C aen-Villers-Bocage road, three miles from their starting point. On June 27, the 15th Division managed to capture a sound bridge over the Odon, and the 11th Ar­ moured D ivision advanced and began the switching movement mentioned earlier: the first objective was Hill 112, the summit of the ridge which separates the Odon and Orne Valleys. German counter-attack fails The VIII Corps, however, was now behind schedule, and some very trouble­ some bottlenecks were building up at its rear. These difficulties enabled Sepp Die­ trich, commanding I S.S. Panzer Corps, to avoid the worst by bringing in General Paul Hausser’s II S.S. Panzer Corps, which had just come back from the Gali­ cian front. He even tried to take the 11th Armoured Division in a pincer movement between the 9th S.S. Panzer Division "Hohenstaufen” and the 10th S.S. Panzer D ivision "Frundsberg” and only failed because O’Connor evacuated his troops from a salient that had become too exposed. On the other hand the Panzergruppe "West” failed in its efforts to turn this defensive success into a general offensive, for II S.S. Panzer Corps was literally pinned down by artillery fire and tactical air bombardment whenever it made the slightest move. In this connection General Harzer, Chief Operations Staff Officer of the 9th S.S. Panzer grenadier D ivision said later: "Now, if the Luftwaffe had been able to deal with the Allied navies and also stop the accurate bombing of certain targets, I think that the British- Canadian landings would once again have 'fallen in the ditch’, as they say. As it was, our counter-offensive broke down under air attack and artillery fire, particularly the heavy guns of the battleships. They were devastating. When one of these shells dropped near a Panther, the 56-ton tank (sic) was blown over on its side, just from the blast. It was these broadsides from the warships, more than the defen­ sive fighting of the enemy’s troops, which halted our division’s Panzer Regiment.” At all events, after this sharp lesson, the Germans gave up any further idea of throwing the enemy back into the sea. Montgomery, in his June 30 directive to Generals Bradley and Dempsey, declared himself to be quite satisfied with the results obtained, although Opera­ tion "Epsom” had only dented the enemy line. "All this is good... by forcing the enemy to place the bulk of his strength in front of the Second Army, we have made easier the acquisition of territory on the western flank. "Our policy has been so successful that the Second Army is now opposed by a formidable array of German Panzer D ivision s-eigh t definitely identified, and possibly more to come . . . "To hold the maximum number of enemy divisions on our eastern flank between Caen and Villers Bocage, and to swing the western or right flank of the Army Group southwards and east­ wards in a wide sweep so as to threaten the line of withdrawal of such enemy divisions to the south of Paris.” < A ”brewed-up” Sherman with the remains of its crew shrouded with a blanket. A Am erican combat team: rifles, tommy-guns, and a mortar. Caen occupied The carrying out of this plan meant continuing to place the main weight of this battle of attrition on the shoulders of General Dempsey, for the slightest 1687
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