Operation Bluecoat

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Operation Bluecoat
Part of Operation Overlord, Battle of Normandy
The British Army in Normandy 1944 B8190.jpg
Universal carriers and infantry of 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division move forward during Operation Bluecoat, 30 July 1944.
Date 30 July – 7 August 1944
Location Normandy, France
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom  Germany
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Miles Dempsey Nazi Germany Paul Hausser
Strength
3 Armoured Divisions
3 Infantry Divisions
2 Armoured Brigades
rising to:
4 Panzer Divisions
2 Infantry Divisions
Casualties and losses
N/A Unknown but significant.

Operation Bluecoat was an attack by the British Second Army at the Battle of Normandy during the Second World War, from 30 July – 7 August 1944. The geographical objectives of the attack were to secure the key road junction of Vire and the high ground of Mont Pinçon. Strategically, the attack was made to support the American exploitation of their break-out on the western flank of the Normandy beachhead.

Situation[edit]

On 25 July, after a false start the day before, the American army broke out of the beachhead, in Operation Cobra. A week earlier, the British and Canadian forces had launched Operation Goodwood in a southerly direction, south east of Caen on the eastern flank of the Allied beachhead. This had forced the Germans to keep the bulk of their armoured units, in this sector. Following the closure of Operation Goodwood, Ultra revealed that the Germans were aiming to move the 21st Panzer division out of the line in preparation to moving it to the west (American) sector of the front. The inter–army boundary between the British right flank and the US First Army was being moved, with British forces taking over a sector previously manned by resting American infantry, against which were lightly armed German infantry, which gave an opportunity for a new operation to keep tying down German armour. Armoured divisions of the British Second Army under Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey were switched westwards toward Villers-Bocage adjacent to the American army. Originally, Dempsey planned to attack on 2 August but the speed of events forced him to advance the date.

Initially, only two weak German infantry divisions held the intended attack frontage, south and east of Caumont, although they had laid extensive minefields and constructed substantial defences. They also occupied ideal terrain for defence, the bocage.

The attack[edit]

British XXX Corps was to lead the attack, with VIII Corps on their right flank.

A raid by over 1,000 bombers in preference to a preliminary artillery barrage was to prepare the way for the attack. The weather was poor and many of the bombers could not find their targets, however the German infantry was shocked by the bombing and the advance of armour behind a creeping artillery barrage, although when the attack began many units were held up by minefields, sunken roads, thick hedges and steep gullies. In the centre the attackers gained 5 miles (8.0 km).

Cromwell tanks of 7th Armoured Division move up in the morning at the start of Operation Bluecoat 30 July 1944.

On the next day (31 July), the British 11th Armoured Division (VIII Corps) exploited a German inter–army boundary weakness when they discovered an undefended bridge 5 mi (8.0 km) behind the German front, over the River Soulevre. Reinforcing the opportunity very quickly with Cromwell tanks followed by further support units they broke up the first German armoured units sent to counter-attack.

British forces were 5 mi (8.0 km) from Vire but as this was on the American side of the boundary between the British and American armies, there was confusion between the two allied armies as to who had the rights to use certain roads and the British attack was restricted and diverted south-east. This gave the German 7th Army time to regroup and move SS Panzer Divisions to reinforce their defences.

End of the Operation[edit]

The British advance was held up by these reinforcements. VIII Corps also had to protect its eastern flank, because XXX Corps had not kept up the same rate of advance. The commander of XXX Corps, Lieutenant-General Gerard Bucknall, was dismissed on 2 August and the commander of the 7th Armoured Division, Major-General George Erskine, was relieved of command the next day. Replacing Bucknall was Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, a veteran of North Africa. The 2nd Army's advance was brought to a temporary halt on 4 August.

After renewed efforts, Vire fell to British-American forces on 6 August. On the same day, the British 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division and tanks of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars captured Mont Pinçon.

Results[edit]

Though Operation Bluecoat failed to create a breakout, it kept German armoured units fixed on the British eastern front and continued the wearing down of the strength of German armoured formations in the area. By the time of the American breakout at Avranches, there was little to no reserve strength left for their effort at a counter-attack. The static defense that Hitler imposed upon his army in Normandy coupled with the Allied domination of the skies during the day resulted in a large entrapment of German forces at the Falaise Gap.

Forces[edit]

British[edit]

British Second Army (Miles Dempsey)

British VIII Corps (Richard O'Connor)
British 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division (Gordon MacMillan)
British Guards Armoured Division (Allan Adair)
British 11th Armoured Division ("Pip" Roberts)
British 3rd Infantry Division (temporarily attached[1]) (Lashmer Whistler)
British 6th Guards Tank Brigade (Gerald Verney to 3 August then Sir Walter Barttelot)
British XXX Corps (Gerard Bucknall to 2 August then Brian Horrocks)
British 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division (Gwilym Thomas)
British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division (Douglas Graham)
British 7th Armoured Division (George Erskine to 4 August then Gerald Verney)
British 8th Armoured Brigade (George Prior-Palmer)

German[edit]

5th Panzer Army (Heinrich Eberbach)
initially present:

XLVII Panzer Corps (part) (Hans Freiherr von Funck)
276th Infantry Division (Curt Badinski)
326th Infantry Division (Viktor von Drabich-Wächter)

reinforcements:

II SS Panzer Corps (Wilhelm Bittrich)
9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen (Friedrich-Wilhelm Bock)
10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg (Heinz Harmel)
21st Panzer Division (Edgar Feuchtinger)
1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (part) (Theodor Wisch)

Notable actions[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mead (2007), p.335

References[edit]

  • UK MoD Brochure on Normandy
  • Daglish, Ian (2003). Operation Bluecoat. Pen & Sword. ISBN 0-85052-912-3. 
  • Delaforce, Patrick (1993). The Black Bull: from Normandy to the Baltic with the 11th Armoured Division. Stroud, Gloucs.: Sutton. ISBN 978-0-7509-0406-3. 
  • Delaforce, Patrick (2002) [1994]. The Fighting Wessex Wyverns: from Normandy to Bremerhaven with the 43rd (Wessex) Division. Stroud, Gloucs.: Sutton. ISBN 978-0-7509-3187-8. 
  • Jary, Sydney (2003) [1987]. 18 Platoon. Winchester, Hants.: Light Infantry. ISBN 978-1-901655-01-8. 
  • Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: A biographical guide to the key British generals of World War II. Stroud (UK): Spellmount. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0. 
  • Wilmot, Chester (1997) [1952]. The Struggle For Europe. Ware, UK: Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 978-1-85326-677-5. 
  • Hunt, Eric (2003) [2003]. Mont Picon. Leo Cooper. ISBN 0-85052-944-1. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°50′34″N 0°53′32″W / 48.84278°N 0.89222°W / 48.84278; -0.89222