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) 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
5,114 (VIII Corps only) 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. Operationally, the attack was made to support the American exploitation of their break-out on the western flank of the Normandy beachhead and tactically, to exploit the German depletion of the defences of what had been a quiet area, by withdrawing the 2nd Panzer Division.

Background[edit]

From 18–20 July, the British Second Army conducted Operation Goodwood in a southerly direction, south-east of Caen on the eastern flank of the Allied beachhead, which had forced the Germans to keep the bulk of their armoured units in the east around Caen.[1] After Goodwood, Ultra revealed that the Germans planned to move the 21st Panzer Division out of the line, in preparation to moving it to the west (American) sector of the front. On 25 July, after a false start the day before, the American First Army began Operation Cobra.[2]

Prelude[edit]

Allied offensive preparations[edit]

The inter–army boundary between the British right flank and the US First Army was moved, with British forces taking over a sector previously manned by the US V Corps, against which were lightly armed German infantry, which gave an opportunity for a new operation to keep tying down German armour. The VIII Corps headquarters and the 7th 11th and Guards armoured divisions of the British Second Army under Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey, were moved westwards toward Caumont on the western flank of XXX Corps, to relieve the US V Corps. Dempsey planned to attack on 2 August but the speed of events forced him to advance the date.[3]

German defensive preparations[edit]

Normandy Bocage

From 21 July the 2nd Panzer Division had been withdrawn from the area south of Caumont and relieved by the 326th Division, which took over a 10-mile (16 km) front from the east of Villers-Bocage, next to the 276th Division, westwards to the Drôme river, the boundary between the LXXIV Korps of Panzergruppe West and the 7th Army. The 326th Division, south and east of Caumont, was up to strength and took over a large number of field defences and camouflaged firing positions, behind extensive minefields in the ideal defensive terrain of the Suisse Normande bocage.[4]

Plan[edit]

British XXX Corps was to lead the attack with the 43rd Division to advance to the top of Bois du Homme (Point 361). The left flank was to be protected by the 50th Division and the 7th Armoured Division was in reserve. On the right the western flank of XXX Corps was to be protected by the VIII Corps, with the 15th Division attacking south from Caumont and the 11th Armoured Division attacking cross-country further west, ready to exploit a German collapse by advancing towards Petit Aunay, 3.7 miles (6.0 km) west of Saint-Martin-des-Besaces. A raid by over 1,000 bombers in preference to a preliminary artillery barrage was to prepare the way for the attack.[5]

Battle[edit]

Operations Cobra and Bluecoat

Visibility was poor but the bombers placed accurately 2,000 long tons (2,000 t) of bombs. The damage to German equipment was slight, partly because there was little of it in the target areas and because the 43rd and 50th divisions were held just beyond the start line, well north of the target areas in their sector. The advance of the left flank units of the 11th Armoured Division through "Area A" made rapid progress.[6] Many British units were held up by minefields, sunken roads, thick hedges and steep gullies but in the centre the attackers gained 5 miles (8.0 km).[7]

On 31 July, the 11th Armoured Division of VIII Corps exploited a German inter–army boundary weakness, when they discovered an undefended bridge ("Dickie's Bridge") 5 mi (8.0 km) behind the German front, over the River Souleuvre.[8] Reinforcing the opportunity quickly with Cromwell tanks followed by further support units, they broke up the first German armoured units sent to counter-attack.[9]

St-Martin-des-Besaces (Map commune FR insee code 14629)

British forces advanced to about 5 mi (8.0 km) from Vire by 2 August, which was on the American side of the inter-army boundary. There was confusion as to who had the rights to use certain roads and the British attack was restricted and diverted south-east. The German 7th Army was able to reinforce the town with troops from the 3rd Parachute Division, which was being forced south by the US V Corps and to move elements of the 9th SS Panzer Division south-west to close the gap between the 7th Army and Panzergruppe West.[10]

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 sacked the next day.[11] Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, a veteran of North Africa replaced Bucknall on 4 August. The 2nd Army advance was brought to a temporary halt on 4 August. Vire fell to an American night attack by the 116th Regiment of the US 29th Division against the defenders of the 363rd Division on 6 August.[12] On the same day, the British 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division and tanks of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars captured Mont Pinçon.[13]

Aftermath[edit]

Analysis[edit]

Vire area (Map commune FR insee code 14762)

Operation Bluecoat 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. The breakthrough in the centre of the Allied front surprised the Germans, when they were distracted by the Allied attacks at both ends of the Normandy bridgehead.[14] By the time of the American breakout at Avranches, there was little to no reserve strength left for Operation Luttich, the German counter-offensive, which had been defeated by 12 August, leaving the 7th Army with not choice but to retire rapidly east of the Orne river, followed by a rearguard by all the remaining armoured and motorised units, to allow time for the surviving infantry to reach the Seine. After the first stage of the withdrawal beyond the Orne, the manoeuvre collapsed for a lack of fuel, Allied air attacks and the constant pressure of the Allied armies and culminated in the encirclement of many German forces in the Falaise pocket.[15]

Casualties[edit]

During Bluecoat and later operations in Normandy the VIII Corps had 5,114 casualties.[16]

Subsequent operations[edit]

Operation Grouse[edit]

With news from the American sector by 9 August that Operation Lüttich, the German counter-offensive from Mortain, had been defeated, O'Connor planned a new attack, intended to pin down the German defenders opposite VIII Corps or precipitate a collapse. The 3rd Division would advance around Vire and the Guards Armoured Division was to advance down Perrier Ridge, VIII Corps establishing itself on high ground between Tinchebray and Condé-sur-Noireau around Mont de Cerisi, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) south-east of Vire. A three-phase attack was planned by the Guards Armoured Division and the attached 6th Guards Tank Brigade to begin on 11 August but the day dawned with a dense mist, which prevented the preliminary bombing and disorganised the tank-infantry attack. German defensive fire restricted the advance on the eastern flank to 400 yards (370 m). In the centre, three Panthers were spotted in a farm yard at le Haut Perrier and ambushed, two being knocked out and the survivor being set on fire by a PIAT gunner on the southern outskirts of le Haut Perrier. The British advance continued towards Point 242 north of Chênedollé, where a German counter-attack knocked out six Shermans for a loss of two Panthers and an assault gun. To the west the 2nd Irish Guards-5th Coldstream tank-infantry group made faster progress and reached the west side of Chênedollé. When the village was attacked it was found that the garrison had withdrawn. As the bombers had failed to arrive, Chênedollé was consolidated and further attacks were postponed and then cancelled.[17]

On the right of the Guards Armoured Division the attack began at 9:00 a.m. along a road running south through Viessoix and le Broulay, 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) further on, thence to Moncy 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) to the east, protected on the right by the advance of the 3rd Division. From Moncy the attack was to be continued to Point 260, on Mont de Cerisi 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) further on. German resistance was as determined as that in the east. To the north of la Personnerie, minefields covered by the fire of troops from the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division, held up the advance. In the afternoon an attempt to detour to the east through le Val was also blocked, the advance having covered only 800 metres (870 yd) in five hours. With the attack bogged down at le Val and Viessoix the troops at le Val were withdrawn during the evening and new orders were received to hold the Vire–Vassy road.[18]

Order of battle[edit]

British[edit]

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

Second Army (Miles Dempsey)[Note 1]

VIII Corps (Richard O'Connor)
15th (Scottish) Infantry Division (Gordon MacMillan)
Guards Armoured Division (Allan Adair)
11th Armoured Division ("Pip" Roberts)
3rd Infantry Division (temporarily attached) (Lashmer Whistler)[20]
6th Guards Tank Brigade (Gerald Verney to 3 August then Sir Walter Barttelot)
XXX Corps (Gerard Bucknall to 2 August then Brian Horrocks)
43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division (Gwilym Thomas)
50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division (Douglas Graham)
7th Armoured Division (George Erskine to 4 August then Gerald Verney)
8th Armoured Brigade (George Prior-Palmer)

German[edit]

Panzergruppe west (renamed 5th Panzer Army, August 1944) (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. ^ Data for the orders of battle of the British and German forces are taken from the British Official History, Ellis, L. F. The Battle of Normandy (1962).[19]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Ellis 1962, pp. 327–352.
  2. ^ Ellis 1962, pp. 381–386.
  3. ^ Ellis 1962, p. 386.
  4. ^ Daglish 2009, pp. 19–21.
  5. ^ Daglish 2009, pp. 21, 25–26, 28.
  6. ^ Copp 2000, p. 90.
  7. ^ Ellis 1962, pp. 389–393.
  8. ^ Daglish 2009, pp. 85–96.
  9. ^ Ellis 1962, pp. 393–394.
  10. ^ Daglish 2009, pp. 177–188.
  11. ^ Daglish 2009, pp. 137, 194.
  12. ^ Daglish 2009, pp. 271–274.
  13. ^ Ellis 1962, pp. 408–411.
  14. ^ Daglish 2009, p. 301.
  15. ^ Ellis 1962, pp. 419–433.
  16. ^ Jackson 1948, p. 142.
  17. ^ Daglish 2009, pp. 278–286.
  18. ^ Daglish 2009, pp. 286–290.
  19. ^ Ellis 1962, pp. 521–530, 553.
  20. ^ Mead 2007, p. 335.
  21. ^ Ellis 1962, pp. 409–410.
  22. ^ Daglish 2009, pp. 68–74.

References[edit]

  • Copp, T., ed. (2000). Montgomery's Scientists: Operational Research in Northwest Europe. The work of No. 2 Operational Research Section with 21 Army Group June 1944 to July 1945. Waterloo Ontario: LCMSDS. ISBN 0-9697955-9-9. 
  • Daglish, I. (2009). Operation Bluecoat. Pen & Sword. ISBN 0-85052-912-3. 
  • Ellis, L. F. (1962). Victory in the West: The Battle of Normandy. History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series I (N & M Press 2004 ed.). London: HMSO. ISBN 1-845740-58-0. 
  • Jackson, G. S. (1948). Operations of Eighth Corps: Account of Operations From Normandy to the River Rhine (MLRS 2006 ed.). London: St Clements Press. ISBN 1-90569-625-6. 
  • Mead, R. (2007). Churchill's Lions: A Biographical Guide to the Key British Generals of World War II. Stroud: Spellmount. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Delaforce, P. (1993). The Black Bull: from Normandy to the Baltic with the 11th Armoured Division. Stroud: Sutton. ISBN 978-0-7509-0406-3. 
  • Delaforce, P. (1994). The Fighting Wessex Wyverns: from Normandy to Bremerhaven with the 43rd (Wessex) Division (2002 ed.). Stroud: Sutton. ISBN 978-0-7509-3187-8. 
  • Gill, R.; Groves, J. (1946). Club Route in Europe: the Story of 30 Corps in the European Campaign (1st ed.). Hannover: Werner Degener. OCLC 255796710. 
  • Hunt, E. (2003). Mont Pincon. Barnsley: Leo Cooper. ISBN 0-85052-944-1. 
  • Jary, S. (1987). 18 Platoon (2003 ed.). Winchester: Light Infantry. ISBN 978-1-901655-01-8. 
  • Wilmot, C. (1952). The Struggle For Europe (Wordsworth 1997 ed.). London: Collins. ISBN 978-1-85326-677-5. 

External links[edit]

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