Operation Jupiter (1944)
- This article is about the 1944 Operation Jupiter in France. For other uses, see Operation Jupiter (disambiguation).
Operation Jupiter was an attack by VIII Corps of the British Second Army, on 10 July 1944. The objective was for the 43rd (Wessex) Division to capture the villages of Baron-sur-Odon, Fontaine-Étoupefour, Chateau de Fontaine and recapture Hill 112. An attached brigade of the 15th (Scottish) Division would take Éterville, Maltot and the ground up to the River Orne and then the tanks of the 4th Armoured Brigade, supported by infantry, would advance through the captured ground and secure several villages to the west of the River Orne. It was hoped that all objectives could be captured by 9:00 a.m., after which the 4th Armoured Brigade would begin the exploitation phase.
The operation was very successful at first but fighting for Hill 112 went on all day and Maltot changed hands several times. On 11 July, counter-attacks by the 10th SS-Panzer Division and the 102nd SS Heavy Panzer Battalion forced the British off the top of Hill 112 in the afternoon, back to positions on the north-facing slope. The operation was a tactical failure for VIII Corps but a strategic success for the Allies, attrition having reduced the II SS Panzer Corps to a condition from which it never recovered. Several other British operations were conducted in the Odon valley during July and the 53rd (Welsh) Division occupied Hill 112 almost unopposed on 4 August, after the Germans withdrew during Operation Cobra and Operation Bluecoat further west. A stone memorial to the 43rd Division was built on the hill in the late 1940s.
The first battle for Hill 112 was fought at the end of Operation Epsom, when the tanks of 11th Armoured Division broke out from a bridgehead established by the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at Tourmauville. Hill 112 was an intermediate objective on the way to the River Orne crossings but such was the German reaction that the 23rd Hussars were only able to capture and hold the hill with difficulty. Hill 112, at the end of a narrow salient, was held by the infantry of The Rifle Brigade. Here they remained under heavy shell and mortar fire until, warned by Ultra decryption of German radio traffic, showed that the II SS Panzer Corps was arriving.
Before the German reinforcements could attack, General Bernard Montgomery ordered a withdrawal from the hilltop. Montgomery intended to hold the Panzer Divisions (approximately seven), on the Anglo-Canadian front, while the Americans captured Cherbourg and broke out from the beachhead. The American objective was feasible, because the Americans had only the equivalent of 1 1⁄2 Panzer divisions facing them, despite German attempts to disengage Panzer units from the east end of the bridgehead.
Operation Charnwood took place from 8–9 July, to capture Caen and forestall the transfer of German armoured units from the Anglo-Canadian front in the east to the American sector. Three infantry divisions supported by three armoured brigades, attacked behind a creeping barrage and made gradual progress against the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend and 16th Luftwaffe Field Division. By the end of the day the 3rd Canadian, 3rd and 59th (Staffordshire) British divisions had reached Caen. At dawn, the attackers met the remnants of German units, which were retreating across the Orne; Carpiquet airfield had fallen to the Canadians in morning and by 6:00 p.m. the British and Canadians had closed up to the north bank of the Orne. With the remaining bridges fortified or impassable and with German reserves close by, I Corps ended the operation. Charnwood was a mutually costly tactical success for the Allies. The Germans were expelled from north of the Orne but established a defensive line south of the city and continued to transfer formations to the American front.
Plan of attack
The 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division and the attached 31st Tank Brigade with the 141st Regiment Royal Armoured Corps (141st RAC) Crocodiles from the 79th Armoured Division and 4th Armoured Brigade, supported by the 3rd and 8th Army Group Royal Artillery (AGRA), were to attack in three stages. In phase I, the 130th Brigade and 9th Royal Tank Regiment (9th RTR) were to occupy a German salient around les Duanes and capture the Château de Fontaine, as the 129th Brigade with the 7th Royal Tank Regiment (7th RTR) attacked Hill 112. In phase II, the 129th Brigade would form a defensive flank along the northern slope of Hill 112, facing Évrecy to the south-west.
Simultaneously, the 130th Brigade, 9th RTR and Churchill Crocodiles would attack Éterville and Maltot and if the attack succeeded, it was to be followed by an advance south-east of Hill 112 towards St. Martin. In phase III, the 129th Brigade was to stay on Hill 112, while the 130th Brigade dug in from Eterville to Maltot facing east. The 4th Armoured Brigade and the 214th Brigade of the 43rd Division, would then advance between the 129th and 130th brigades, south to the Orne and form a bridgehead. The 46th Brigade of the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division and a squadron of the 7th RTR would then clear the ground between the Odon, Orne and the western suburbs of Caen.
The German defenders survived naval bombardment, air attack and artillery fire but held their ground, crucially supported by Tiger tanks from schwere SS-Panzer Abteilung 102. These heavy tanks armed with the 88 mm gun had greater protection and fire power and outclassed the opposing British Churchill and Sherman tanks.[a]
Exploitation of a German retirement from Caen, in the wake of Operation Charnwood had not been possible, since the Germans only withdrew to the south bank of the Orne. The British had attacked down open slopes, commanded by dug in German units on the reverse slope. Narrow front attacks had been tactically unwise but lack of troops and the strategic circumstances had made them unavoidable, despite the congestion caused behind the British front line and the delays this caused in delivering supplies and reinforcements. O'Connor, the VIII Corps commander, recommended that greater account be taken of topography in the selection of objectives and that the occupation of high ground be favoured over attacks on villages. The British and Canadians had used their increasing experience and kept the initiative but the Germans had not withdrawn, despite the cost of such defensive operations. The commanding views from Hill 112 were of great tactical importance but the hill was not captured by the British and was left as a no-man's-land, with the two sides dug in on either side.
Several villages in the vicinity had been taken (although the British were pushed out of Éterville) and the Germans had been provoked into counter-attacking British penetrations. The 9th SS Panzer Division, which had been moving out of the line to form an operational reserve, was brought back to contain the attack and the German troops involved in counter-attacks were exposed to Allied fire-power, which inflicted severe casualties and deprived the German defence of the ability to conduct a counter-offensive. Tank-versus-tank engagements continued to take place at fewer than 1,000 yards (910 m), at which the 150-millimetre (5.9 in) armour of Churchill tanks was insufficient to resist hand-held hollow charge weapons or the high-velocty 75 mm and 88 mm guns used by the Germans. British tank-mounted, medium-velocity 75 mm guns, could not penetrate the frontal armour of Panther tanks or the armour of Tiger tanks from any direction.
Operation Express, 22 July
Operation Express was to begin from Louvigny. The 5th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment (5th Wilts) and B Squadron of the 9th Royal Tank Regiment (9th RTR) of the 31st Tank Brigade, were to capture the village and orchards north of the road from Louvigny and the 4th Wiltshire with A Squadron 9th RTR, were to attack the woods, orchards and a spur south-east of Maltot. The 4th Somerset Light Infantry were kept in reserve, ready to exploit any success. On the east bank of the Orne, the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade raided Etavaux with two companies, along the railway close to the river supported by a creeping barrage and tanks from the Sherbrooke Fusiliers on higher ground. Several Canadian soldiers rushed German machine-gun nests and enabled the advance to continue to the village, where they fought with the German garrison until the British barrage was due and then retired. After Maltot was captured, the Canadians returned to occupy the village and took c. 100 prisoners from the 272nd Division, for a loss of 108 casualties.}}
Operation Express began at 5:30 p.m. and on the right side of the road the 5th Wilts advanced behind a smoke screen and an artillery barrage. The German defenders were surprised and at first were stunned by the bombardment. As the British moved through the village, some defenders recovered and hand-to-hand fighting took place. Grenadiers from the 10th SS-Panzer Division and Tiger tanks from the 102nd schwere SS-Panzer Abteilung began a counter-attack as Maltot was entered and knocked out several Churchill tanks of B Squadron. A British Forward Air Controller saw the German tanks and called in Hawker Typhoon Fighter-bombers, which forced the Tigers back to Hill 112, while the Grenadiers reinforced the German infantry in the village. On the other side of the Louvigny road, the 4th Wilts and A Squadron, advanced through woods and farms to the final objective, south of the village. The infantry went first, two sections in front of each tank, with the Squadron commander on foot accompanying the infantry commanders.
When it was seen that the 4th Wilts across the road had been delayed, by the German defence of Lieu de France Farm at the east end of Maltot, Churchill and Churchill Crocodile tanks advanced, bombarded and flamed the defenders and then overran the position. As the advance moved into the woods, small parties of British and German infantry stalked each other through trees, small quarries and trenches. The defenders were overrun in about two hours and mopping up began but some German troops held out as dark fell. Most of the surviving defenders retired to Château Maltot on the far side of the road and were cut off. As the 4th Wilts moved forward to the Rau de Maltot stream, they were stopped by fire from the Château. Bombardment by the Churchills prompt a German medic to request a truce, which was offered provided that all German troops in the Château surrender, which was refused. At dusk the British attacked and broke into the ground floor but were held back by showers of hand grenades. Overnight the outbuildings were captured and the Château was kept under fire by the tanks.
From 9:30–10:00 p.m., both battalions reached the final objectives to the west of Maltot and the woods to the south. The tanks withdrew, having lost eight vehicles and just after dawn, the remaining Germans in the Château gave up. By the end of the operation, the 10th SS-Panzer Division had been reduced from c. 15,000 men to 2,289 and only the most vital positions could be counter-attacked. At dawn, the British were met by the sight of the dead from Operation Jupiter and by long-range fire from German tanks and guns on the south-east ridge of Hill 112. The Wilts had taken more than 400 prisoners, in what they claimed by to be a "text-book" operation. Commanders had studied maps, photographs and sand models, had been given time to establish infantry-tank co-operation with 7th RTR and conduct reconnaissance. The 43rd (Wessex) Division was withdrawn and the ground taken over by the 53rd (Welsh) Division. The Germans withdrew from Hill 112 in August, during Operation Cobra and Operation Bluecoat further west; the 53rd (Welsh) Division occupied the feature with barely a fight on 4 August.
Casualties and commemoration
The 43rd Wessex Division lost 2,000 men in the operation and 7,000 casualties from 10–22 July. The 31st Tank Brigade had 25 percent tank casualties. The importance of the battles for Hill 112 is remembered by the erection by the 5th DCLI in August 1944 labelled "Cornwall Wood" A larger wooden memorial to the 43rd Wessex Division was built by the residents of Normandy, to the combatants and civilians who were killed soon afterwards. A stone memorial was built at Hill 112 by the 43rd Division in the late 1940s (carved by German masons) and similar memorials are at Wynyard's Gap in North Dorset, Castle Hill, Mere in Wiltshire and Rough Tor in Cornwall.
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