Battle for Caen

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Battle for Caen
Part of Operation Overlord
Battle for Caen
Battle for Caen
Date 6 June–6 August 1944[nb 1]
Location Normandy, France
Result Strategic Allied victory[nb 2]
Belligerents
 United Kingdom
 Canada
 Germany
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Bernard Montgomery
United Kingdom Miles Dempsey
Nazi Germany Erwin Rommel
Nazi Germany Friedrich Dollmann 
Nazi Germany Paul Hausser
Nazi Germany Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg
Nazi Germany Sepp Dietrich
Strength
3 armoured divisions[nb 3]
11 infantry divisions[nb 4]
5 Armoured Brigades[nb 5]
3 Tank Brigades[nb 6]
7 infantry divisions[nb 7]
8 Panzer Divisions
3 heavy tank battalions[14]
Casualties and losses
~50,539 casualties[nb 8] Unknown
550 tanks lost[nb 9]

The Battle for Caen from June–August 1944 was a battle between Allied (primarily British and Canadian troops) and German forces during the Battle of Normandy.

Originally, the Allies aimed to take the French city of Caen, one of the largest cities in Normandy, on D-Day. Caen was a vital objective for several reasons. Firstly, it lay astride the Orne River and Caen Canal; these two water obstacles could strengthen a German defensive position if not crossed. Secondly, Caen was a road hub; in German hands it would enable the enemy to shift forces rapidly. Thirdly, the area around Caen was relatively open, especially compared to the bocage country in the west of Normandy. This area was valued for airfield construction.

On D-Day, Caen was an objective for the British 3rd Infantry Division and remained the focal point for a series of battles throughout June, July and into August. The battle did not go as planned for the Allies, instead dragging on for two months, because German forces devoted most of their reserves to holding Caen, particularly their badly needed armor reserves. As a result German forces facing the American invasion thrust further west were spread thin, relying on the rough terrain of the back country to slow down the American advance. With so many German divisions held up defending Caen, the American forces were eventually able to break through to the south and east, threatening to encircle the German forces in Normandy from behind.

The old city of Caen—with many buildings dating back to the Middle Ages—was largely destroyed by Allied bombing and the fighting. The reconstruction of Caen lasted until 1962. Today, little of the pre-war city remains.

Background[edit]

Canadian reserve troops disembark at "Nan White" Beach at Bernières-sur-Mer.

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.

The Battle for Caen[edit]

Operation Neptune[edit]

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.

Operation Perch[edit]

Sherman and Cromwell tanks of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group on their way to Tilly-sur-Seulles, 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.[15] The operation was assigned to XXX Corps; the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division was tasked with capturing Bayeux and the road to Tilly-sur-Seulles.[16][17] The 7th Armoured Division would then spearhead the advance to Mont Pinçon.[17][18]

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.[19] 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).[15][20]

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 (hedgerows), 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.[24]

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.[18] This opened a 7.5 mi (12.1 km) gap in the German frontline.[25] 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.[26][27][28] After two days of intense fighting that included the Battle of Villers-Bocage,[29] on 14 June the division's position was judged untenable and it was withdrawn.[30] The 7th Armoured Division was pulled back to be bolstered by the 33rd Armoured Brigade,[31] which was in the process of landing and forming up within the British beachhead.[32] 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.[33]

Le Mesnil-Patry[edit]

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 (Canada), 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 fanatical resistance at Le Mesnil-Patry and SS troops, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division assumed a static role until Operation Windsor in the first week of July.[34]

Operation Martlet[edit]

Operation Martlet (also known as Operation Dauntless)[35] 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.

Operation Epsom[edit]

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

After a delay caused by the three-day storm that descended upon the English Channel,[33] 2nd Army launched Operation Epsom on 26 June.[36] The objective of the operation was to capture the high ground south of Caen, near Bretteville-sur-Laize.[37] 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.[38] The operation would be supported by 736 artillery pieces,[39] the Royal Navy, close air support and a preliminary bombardment by 250 bombers of the Royal Air Force.[40] However the planned bombing mission for the start of the operation had to be called off due to poor weather over Britain.[41] I and XXX Corps were also assigned to support Epsom. On the day before the attack was to be launched, Operation Martlet[42] (also known as Operation Dauntless)[35] was to be launched; 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, supported by tanks, was to secure the VIII Corps flank, by capturing the high ground to the right of their advance.[42] I Corps would launch two supporting operations several days following the launch of Epsom, codenamed Aberlour and Ottawa. The 3rd Infantry Division, supported by the 8th 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 but the attacks were cancelled.[43]

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).[44] The Germans throwing in their last available reserves, had been able to achieve a defensive success at the operational level in containing the British offensive.[45] Tactically 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.[46] 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 and prevented German armoured forces being redeployed to face the Americans or being relieved and passed into reserve.[47]

The operation cost the Second Army up to 4,078 casualties[nb 10] while the German Army lost over 3,000 men and 126 tanks knocked out.[49][50]

Operation Windsor[edit]

The airfield at Carpiquet was to have been taken on D-Day, but this plan had failed. In order to correct the failure, the Allies undertook Operation Windsor to break through the strongly held German positions near the airfield. The 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade received the mission reinforced by the Royal Winnipeg Rifles from the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade, tank support was provided by The Fort Garry Horse (10th Armoured Regiment) and three squadrons of specialist tanks including a flame thrower squadron from the 79th Armoured Division, gunfire support was provided by the battleship HMS Rodney (29) and 21 artillery battalions together with two squadrons of RAF Hawker Typhoon ground support aircraft on call.[51]

The airfield was reinforced with concrete shelters, machine gun towers, underground tunnels, 75 mm (2.95 in) anti-tank guns and 20 mm (0.79 in) anti-aircraft cannons. The surrounding area was protected by mine fields and barbed wire entanglements. The Resistance had informed the Canadian troops about the defences surrounding the airfield. The Canadians took the village of Carpiquet on 5 July. Three days later, after repulsing several German counterattacks, they also captured the airfield and adjacent villages during major assaults in Operation Charnwood. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division's commander—Major-General Rod Keller—was severely criticized for not sending two brigades into Operation Windsor and for delegating detailed planning to Brigadier Blackader of the 8th Brigade.[52] The poor performance of the 3rd Division was seen as additional evidence that Keller was unfit for his command.

Operation Charnwood[edit]

Having failed to take Caen during the preceding operations, Montgomery decided the next attempt to capture the city would be conducted by a frontal assault. Although the strategic importance of Caen had vastly diminished since D-Day, he sought control of Bourguébus and the commanding high ground to the south.[53][54] The three infantry divisions and three armoured brigades, of I Corps, was given the objective of clearing the city of German forces up to the Orne river, and if possible to secure bridgeheads into southern Caen.[55][56] To achieve the latter, it was planned to send an armoured column through the city to rush the bridges; it was hoped that I Corps could exploit the situation to sweep on through southern Caen toward the Verrières and Bourguébus ridges, paving the way for the British 2nd Army to advance toward Falaise.[57][58]

New tactical methods would be used and several waves of bombers would be used to facilitate the Anglo-Canadian advance, prevent German reinforcements from reaching the battle or retreating and for the morale-boosting effect it would have on Allied forces.[59][60][61][62] Suppression of the German defences was of a secondary consideration.[58] Close support aircraft and 656 artillery guns would support the operation.[63] the Royal Navy,[64][65]

A file of soldiers walking through a blasted cityscape; only a few buildings are standing
Royal Engineers move through the ruins of Caen, looking for mines and booby-traps, 10 July 1944.

On the night of 7 July, the first wave of bombers attacked dropping over 2,000 short tons (1,800 t) of bombs on the city.[nb 11] At 04:30 on 8 July, I Corps launched their attack.[70] Several hours later the final wave of bombers arrived over the battlefield and dropped their payloads.[62] By evening, the allied force had reached the outskirts of Caen and the German command authorised the withdrawal of all heavy weapons, and the remnants of the Luftwaffe division across the Orne to the southern side of Caen;[71] while the 12th SS fought a rearguard action as it pulled back from positions no longer considered tenable.[72]

"Mountains of rubble, [approximately] 20 or 30 feet [≈ 6 or 9 meter] high [...] the dead lay everywhere."

Arthur Wilkes describing the situation following the operation.[73]

On the morning of 9 July, Anglo-Canadian patrols began to infiltrate into the city[67] and Carpiquet Airfield finally fell into Allied hands when it was discovered that the 12th SS had withdrawn during the night.[74] By noon, the Allied infantry had reached the Orne's northern bank, virtually destroying the 16th Luftwaffe Field Division in the process.[75] By late afternoon the northern half of Caen was firmly under Allied control. Some bridges were still intact, but these were either blocked by rubble or defended by German troops on the south side of the river.[76] The debris that choked the streets made it almost impossible for British armour to manoeuvre, effectively preventing 2nd Army from exploiting I Corps's success.[77] Without possession of the terrain flanking the south of the city, no further gains could be made within Caen,[78][79] so by mid-afternoon on 9 July, Operation Charnwood was over.[67]

British troops noted that following the battle "In the houses that were still standing there slowly came life, as the French civilians realized that we had taken the city. They came running out of their houses with glasses and bottles of wine.".[73] The consensus is that the operation was a tactical success but one that should have achieved more than it did;[57][80][81] it has also been described as one of the most difficult of the campaign.[82]

Operation Jupiter[edit]

Soldiers of the 43rd Wessex Division seek shelter from German mortar attacks, 10 July.
A Padre and soldiers from the 11th Armoured Division pray before the attack on Eterville on 10 July.

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.

Operation Goodwood[edit]

Preparation[edit]

A Sherman Firefly drives over the "Euston Bridge" on the first day of Operation Goodwood, one of the few bridges over the Orne.

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.

Execution[edit]

Sherman tanks advance with infantrymen seated on top, 18 July 1944. The tank on the right is a Sherman Crab flail mine-clearing tank. The tank next to it is a Firefly.

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.[83]

British Infantry, 18 July.

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;[84] 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.[85] I Corps engineers were also constructing new bridges across the Orne River and Caen Canal while strengthening the existing bridges prior to the attack.[86] 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.[87] 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.[88]

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[citation needed].

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.

Medical personnel treat wounded soldiers during Operation Goodwood on 18 July.

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[citation needed].

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[citation needed]. On the right flank of the operation, Canadian 3rd Infantry Division advanced through the southern part of Caen, finally liberating the city that day.[89]

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.[90]

Results[edit]

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.[92] 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.[93] 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.[94] 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[96] and between 75[nb 12]-100 tanks were destroyed.[nb 13] The operation was a tactical failure for the Second Army in terms of achieving a breakout, yet achieved important strategic aims.[99] 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.[100][101]

Damage and civilian casualties[edit]

View of the destruction of Caen.

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.[102]

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. 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.[103]

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.[104]

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.[105]

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.[83]

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.[107]

Treatment of prisoners of war and war crimes[edit]

A memorial to the murdered Canadian soldiers in the garden of the Abbey.

One hundred fifty-six Canadian prisoners-of-war were shot near Caen by the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend in the days and weeks following D-Day.[108] Twenty Canadians were killed near Villons-les-Buissons, north-west of Caen in Ardenne Abbey. The Abbey was captured at midnight on 8 July by the Regina Rifles. The soldiers were exhumed and buried in the Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery. After the war, Kurt Meyer was convicted and sentenced to death on charges of inappropriate behaviour towards civilians and the execution of prisoners[109]—a sentence that was commuted to life imprisonment. He was released after serving eight years.[110]

Aftermath[edit]

Provisional wood shop in the destroyed city during the rebuilding, 1945.

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[citation needed].

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.

Media[edit]

Films[edit]

Games[edit]

  • Call of Duty 2: Video game from the U.S. game developer Infinity Ward. Released on 3 November 2005, the player is British Sergeant John Davis in the attack on Caen.
  • Hidden & Dangerous 2: The player is a British SAS soldier that must liberate a town near Caen from the Germans.
  • Battlefield 1942: This extremely popular multi-player game features a map of Caen only available with the latest patch which can be found on the Battlefield 1942 website. The two opposing teams, the Germans and the Canadians, must fight over the city of Caen.
  • Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts: The entire British campaign, spanning 9 missions, is about the British 2nd Army's advance towards Caen and the battle of Caen.
  • Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory: Caen is a popular user-created map.
  • Day of Defeat a multiplayer Second World War first-person shooter computer video game features a map titled Caen which is based on the battle.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "On 7 August, II Canadian Corps mounted a second attack against Verrieres ridge in Operation Totalize, and this time broke through. For the British and Canadians, the next battles in Normandy would not be for Caen, but for the road to Falaise."[1]
  2. ^ Milton Shulman explains that due to the attacks around the city of Caen 7 out of the 10 German Panzer Divisions were facing the Anglo-Canadian forces when the American armies launched Operation Cobra.[2] He continues "What better justification for the strategy adopted by Allied planners to attract to the anvil of Caen the bulk of German armour and there methodically hammer it to bits!"[3] Ellis echoes these thoughts: "Twenty-First Army Group's persistent pressure had compelled Rommel to make good a shortage of infantry by using his armour defensively. The strongest armoured divisions were clustered around that eastern flank until the American army had reached a position from which it was ready to break through the less heavily guarded western front."[4] Richard Overy states that von Kluge warned Hitler that the German left flank had collapsed following Operation Cobra and "The choice was between holding at Caen and abandoning western France, or dividing German forces between two battles, and risking collapse in both." Hitler compromised; the German army would hold in front of Caen while armoured forces were diverted to tackle the American attack. "The result was predictable. Strong British and Canadian thrusts both sides of Caen immobilised the German forces and intercepted those driving towards the American front."[5] While one historian, Ken Ford, calls the battle for Caen a pyrrhic victory[6] the War Office had expected 21st Army Group to have 65,751 casualties inflicted upon it by 7 August however by that time 21st Army Group had lost 50,539 casualties.[7] High losses had been expected but that level of casualties had not been reached therefore the definition of pyrrhic victory appears not be appropriate.
  3. ^ Not including the 79th Armoured Division, which never acted as a single formation.[8] The 3 divisions are as follows: Guards Armoured Division, 7th Armoured Division and the 11th Armoured Division.[9]
  4. ^ The following divisions all played a role in the battle for the city of Caen: 3rd Infantry Division, 6th Airborne Division, 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division, 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division, 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division, 51st (Highland) Infantry Division, 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division, 59th(Staffordshire) Infantry Division, 2nd Canadian Infantry Division and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division.[10]
  5. ^ The 4th, 8th, 27th, 33rd Armoured Brigade[11] and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade[12]
  6. ^ The 6th Guards Tank Brigade, 31st and 34th Tank Brigades[11]
  7. ^ The following infantry divisions took part in the battle for Caen, although not all of them at the same time: 16th Luftwaffe Field Division, 272nd Infantry Division, 276th Infantry Division, 277th Infantry Division, 346th Infantry Division, 711th Infantry Division and the 716th Infantry Division.[13]
  8. ^ Casualty figure is for all arms, all ranks of 21st Army Group from 6 June till 7 August. Losses include those incurred outside of the battle of Caen i.e. Gold Beach landing, Operation Bluecoat etc Losses exclude those within Machine Gun, Motor, Air landing, Paratrooper battalions or from the Glider Pilot Regiment.[7]
  9. ^ "It is safe to say that at least 550 of the 750 tanks destroyed in Normandy by this date [the end of July] met their fate on the Caen front."[3]
  10. ^ Between 26–30 June VIII Corps suffered 470 men killed, 2,187 wounded and 706 men missing. During 1 July a further 488 men were killed and wounded and 227 men were reported missing. These figures excludes formations conducting preliminary operations and attacks in support of Epsom.[48]
  11. ^ The quantity of munitions dropped on Caen is subject to some degree of dispute. Keegan estimates the tonnage at 2,000 tons,[66] while Cawthorne puts the figure at 2,300 tons.[67] D'Este does not provide a figure for the tonnage of munitions dropped, yet does state that "Bomber Command dropped some 6,000 bombs in a narrow area of northern Caen".[68] Simon Trew states 2,562 tons.[69]
  12. ^ Reynolds suggests that figures of around 100 tanks destroyed are an over exaggerations. He states that the figure of 75 tanks and assault guns destroyed during Goodwood, as claimed by Major-General Roberts of the 11th Armoured Division during an interview for the British Army Training film on Goodwood, can be accepted as accurate.[97] Tamelander claims that Panzer Group West only records the loss of 75 tanks during the period of 16–21 July.[98]
  13. ^ Trew claims the German tanks lost from all causes during the operation suggest a total German loss of perhaps 100 tanks.[91] Jackson also supports this position, claiming up towards 100 German tanks had been destroyed.[96]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Trew, p. 104
  2. ^ Shulman, pp. 162–163
  3. ^ a b Shulman, p. 166
  4. ^ Ellis, p. 492
  5. ^ Overy, p. 212
  6. ^ Ford, p. 9
  7. ^ a b Hart, p. 47
  8. ^ Buckley, p. 13
  9. ^ Trew, p. 55
  10. ^ Clark, p. 14, 35; Ellis, p. 79; Jackson, p. 54; Trew, p. 54
  11. ^ a b Fortin, pp. 44, 52, 58, 64, 69, 74
  12. ^ Buckley, p. 19
  13. ^ Ellis, pp. 288 (map), 334, 378 (map), 350 (map); Jackson, pp. 60–61; Wilmot, p. 204 (map)
  14. ^ Buckley, p. 88
  15. ^ a b Trew, p. 22
  16. ^ Forty, p. 36
  17. ^ a b Buckley (2004), p. 23
  18. ^ a b Taylor, p. 9
  19. ^ Stacey, p. 142
  20. ^ a b Ellis, p. 247
  21. ^ Gill, p. 24
  22. ^ Clay, p. 254 and 256
  23. ^ Forty, p. 37
  24. ^ Ellis, p. 250
  25. ^ Weigley, pp. 109–110
  26. ^ Hart, p. 134
  27. ^ Buckley24
  28. ^ Wilmot, p. 308
  29. ^ Taylor, pp. 16–78
  30. ^ Forty, p. 160
  31. ^ a b Ellis, p. 255
  32. ^ Fortin, p. 69
  33. ^ a b Williams, p. 114
  34. ^ Stacey,[page needed]
  35. ^ a b Ellis, p. 275
  36. ^ Clark, p. 22
  37. ^ Clark, pp. 31–32
  38. ^ Jackson, pp. 12, 22, 27
  39. ^ Jackson3031
  40. ^ Clark, p. 29
  41. ^ Ellis, p. 277
  42. ^ a b Clark, p. 21
  43. ^ Stacey, p. 150
  44. ^ Jackson, p. 57
  45. ^ Hart, p. 108
  46. ^ Clark, p. 100
  47. ^ Clark, p. 104; Copp, p. 18; Daglish, pp. 218–219; Gill, p. 30; Jackson, pp. 59, 114; Wilmot, p. 348
  48. ^ Jackson, pp. 37, 40, 44, 53, 55 & 59
  49. ^ Clark, pp. 107–109
  50. ^ Jackson, p. 59
  51. ^ Reynolds,p. 146
  52. ^ Reid,[page needed]
  53. ^ D'Este, p. 298
  54. ^ Hastings, p. 222
  55. ^ Trew, p. 38
  56. ^ Stacey, p. 157
  57. ^ a b Wilmot, p. 351
  58. ^ a b Keegan, pp. 82–188
  59. ^ Buckley, p. 31
  60. ^ Trew, pp. 34, 36–37
  61. ^ Ellis, p. 313
  62. ^ a b Trew, p. 37
  63. ^ Scarfe, p. 70
  64. ^ Ellis, p. 311
  65. ^ Copp (2004), p. 101
  66. ^ Keegan, p. 189
  67. ^ a b c Cawthorne, p. 120
  68. ^ D'Este, p. 313
  69. ^ Trew, p. 36
  70. ^ Copp (2004), p. 103
  71. ^ Copp, p. 105
  72. ^ Wood, p. 92
  73. ^ a b British Ministry of Defence
  74. ^ Van der Vat, p. 150
  75. ^ D'Este, p. 318
  76. ^ Ellis, p. 316
  77. ^ D'Este, p. 319
  78. ^ Hastings, p. 223
  79. ^ Copp (2004), p. 106
  80. ^ Beevor, p. 273
  81. ^ D’Este, pp. 318–319
  82. ^ Copp (2004), p. 101–103
  83. ^ a b Beevor, p. 315
  84. ^ Beevor, pp. 311 and 322
  85. ^ Daglish, pp. 26–29
  86. ^ Jackson, p. 87
  87. ^ Trew, p. 68
  88. ^ Jackson, p. 88
  89. ^ Beevor, p. 312
  90. ^ Beevor, p. 321
  91. ^ a b Trew, p. 97
  92. ^ Wilmot, p. 362
  93. ^ Reynolds, p. 186
  94. ^ Trew, p. 98
  95. ^ Buckley, p. 36
  96. ^ a b Jackson, p. 113
  97. ^ Reynolds, p. 187
  98. ^ Tamelander, p. 289
  99. ^ Hart p. 89
  100. ^ D'este, p. 387
  101. ^ Wilmot, pp. 362–365
  102. ^ Beevor, pp. 144–147
  103. ^ Beevor, p. 146
  104. ^ Beevor, pp. 200–202
  105. ^ Beevor, pp. 266–269
  106. ^ Beevor, p. 272
  107. ^ Beevor, p. 147
  108. ^ Margolian, p. x (preface)
  109. ^ Meyer, pp. 357, 372
  110. ^ Meyer, p. 379

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Beevor, Antony (2009). D-Day: The Battle for Normandy. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-88703-3. 
  • Buckley, John (2006) [2004]. British Armour in the Normandy Campaign 1944. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-40773-7. OCLC 154699922. 
  • Cawthorne, Nigel (2005). Victory in World War II. London: Capella (Acturus Publishing Limited). ISBN 1-84193-351-1. OCLC 222830404. 
  • Clark, Lloyd (2004). Operation Epsom. Battle Zone Normandy. The History Press Ltd. ISBN 0-7509-3008-X. 
  • Clay, Major Ewart W (1950). The path of the 50th: The story of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division in the Second World War. Aldershot: Gale and Polden. OCLC 12049041. 
  • Copp, Terry (2004) [2003]. Fields of Fire: The Canadians in Normandy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-3780-1. OCLC 56329119. 
  • Daglish, Ian (2005). Operation Goodwood. Over the Battlefield. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Ltd. ISBN 1-84415-153-0. OCLC 68762230. 
  • D'Este, Carlo (2004) [1983]. Decision in Normandy: The Real Story of Montgomery and the Allied Campaign. London: Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 0-14-101761-9. OCLC 44772546. 
  • Ellis, Major L.F.; with Allen, Captain G.R.G. Allen; Warhurst, Lieutenant-Colonel A.E. & Robb, Air Chief-Marshal Sir James (2004) [1st. pub. HMSO, 1962]. Butler, J.R.M, ed. Victory in the West, Volume I: The Battle of Normandy. History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series. Uckfield, East Sussex: Naval & Military Press Ltd. ISBN 1-84574-058-0. OCLC 276814706. 
  • Ford, Ken; Howard, Gerrard (2004). Caen 1944: Montgomery's Breakout Attempt. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-625-9. 
  • Fortin, Ludovic (2004). British Tanks In Normandy. Histoire & Collections. ISBN 2-915239-33-9. 
  • Forty, George (2004). Villers Bocage. Battle Zone Normandy. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-3012-8. 
  • Gill, Ronald; Groves, John (2006) [1946]. Club Route in Europe: The History of 30 Corps from D-Day to May 1945. MLRS Books. ISBN 978-1-905696-24-6. 
  • Hart, Stephen Ashley (2007) [2000]. Colossal Cracks: Montgomery's 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe, 1944–45. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-3383-1. OCLC 70698935. 
  • Hastings, Max (2006) [1985]. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. New York: Vintage Books USA; Reprint edition. ISBN 0-307-27571-X. OCLC 62785673. 
  • Jackson, G.S.; Staff, 8 Corps (2006) [1945]. 8 Corps: Normandy to the Baltic. Smalldale: MLRS Books. ISBN 978-1-905696-25-3. 
  • Keegan, John (2004) [1982]. Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation at Paris. London: Pimlico. ISBN 1-84413-739-2. OCLC 56462089. 
  • Margolian, Howard (1998). Conduct Unbecoming: The Story of the Murder of Canadian Prisoners of War in Normandy. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-8360-9. 
  • Meyer, Kurt (2005) [1957]. Grenadiers: The Story of Waffen SS General Kurt "Panzer" Meyer. Stackpole Books, U.S.; New Ed edition. ISBN 0-8117-3197-9. 
  • British Ministry of Defence (2004). "Drive on Caen" (PDF). 
  • Overy, Richard (1996). Why the Allies Won: Explaining Victory in World War II. Pimlico. ISBN 978-0-7126-7453-9. 
  • Reid, Brian (2005). No Holding Back. Robin Brass Studio. ISBN 1-896941-40-0. 
  • Reynolds, Michael (2001) [1997]. Steel Inferno: I SS Panzer Corps in Normandy. Da Capo Press Inc. ISBN 1-885119-44-5. 
  • Scarfe, Norman (2006) [1947]. Assault Division: A History of the 3rd Division from the Invasion of Normandy to the Surrender of Germany. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Spellmount Limited. ISBN 1-86227-338-3. 
  • Shulman, Milton (2004) [1947]. Defeat in the West. Cassell. ISBN 0-304-36603-X. 
  • Stacey, Colonel Charles Perry; Bond, Major C.C.J. (1960). Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War: (PDF). Volume III The Victory Campaign: The operations in North-West Europe 1944–1945. The Queen's Printer and Controller of Stationery Ottawa. Retrieved 20 August 2008. 
  • Tamelander, Michael, Zetterling, Niklas (2004). Avgörandets Ögonblick: Invasionen i Normandie 1944. Norsteds Förlag. ISBN 978-91-7001-203-7. 
  • Taylor, Daniel (1999). Villers-Bocage Through the Lens. Old Harlow: Battle of Britain International. ISBN 1-870067-07-X. OCLC 43719285. 
  • Trew, Simon; Badsey, Stephen (2004). Battle for Caen. Battle Zone Normandy. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-3010-1. OCLC 56759608. 
  • Van Der Vat, Dan (2003). D-Day; The Greatest Invasion, A People's History. Toronto: Madison Press Limited. ISBN 1-55192-586-9. OCLC 51290297. 
  • Weigley, Russell F.; Russell Weigley (1981). Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaigns of France and Germany, 1944–1945. Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd. ISBN 0-283-98801-0. 
  • Williams, Andrew (2004). D-Day to Berlin. London: Hodder. ISBN 0-340-83397-1. OCLC 60416729. 
  • Wilmot, Chester; Christopher Daniel McDevitt (1997) [1952]. The Struggle For Europe. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. ISBN 1-85326-677-9. OCLC 39697844. 
  • Wood, James A. (2007). Army of the West: The Weekly Reports of German Army Group B from Normandy to the West Wall. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-3404-8. OCLC 126229849. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 49°11′10″N 0°21′45″W / 49.18611°N 0.36250°W / 49.18611; -0.36250 (Caen)