Second Battle of the Odon


Second Battle of the Odon
Second Battle of the Odon
Part of Battle for Caen
Date 15 July 1944
Location Normandy, France
Result Tactically inconclusive[1]
Strategic Allied victory[1]
Belligerents
United Kingdom United Kingdom Germany Germany
Casualties and losses
3,500 casualties[2] 2,000 casualties[3]
Planned by British Second Army
Objective

The Second Battle of the Odon was a series of operations fought by the British Army in mid-July 1944 against the German Heer (Army) as part of the Battle of Normandy. The two operations launched—Greenline and Pomegranate—were designed to draw German attention away from the upcoming assault, out of the Orne bridgehead, codenamed Goodwood.

No significant territorial gains were made but the operations were strategically successful keeping three German armoured divisions attracted to the west of Caen in the Odon river valley area and away from the Goodwood battlefield.

Contents

Background

The historic Normandy town of Caen was a D-Day objective for the British 3rd Infantry Division that landed on Sword Beach on 6 June 1944.[4] The capture of Caen, while "ambitious", has been described by historian L. F. Ellis as the most important D-Day objective assigned to Lieutenant-General John Crocker's I Corps.[nb 1] Operation Overlord called for 2nd Army to secure the city and then form a front line from Caumont-l'Éventé to the south-east of Caen, in order to acquire airfields and protect the left flank of the U.S. 1st Army while it moved on Cherbourg.[8] Possession of Caen and its surroundings would give 2nd Army a suitable staging area for a push south to capture Falaise, which could itself be used as the pivot for a swing right to advance on Argentan and then toward the Touques River.[9] The terrain between Caen and Vimont was especially promising being open, dry and conducive to swift offensive operations. Since the Allied forces greatly outnumbered the Germans in tanks and mobile units, transforming the battle into a more fluid fast-moving battle was to their advantage.[10]

Hampered by congestion in the beachhead that delayed the deployment of its armoured support and forced to divert effort to attacking strongly held German positions along the 9.3 mi (15.0 km) route to the town, the 3rd Division was unable to assault Caen in force, and was brought to a halt short of its outskirts.[11] Immediate follow-up attacks were unsuccessful as German resistance solidified. Abandoning the direct approach, Operation Perch—a pincer attack by I and XXX Corps[12]—was launched on 7 June, with the intention of encircling Caen from the east and west.[13] I Corps—striking south out of the Orne bridgehead—was halted by the 21. Panzerdivision,[14] and the attack by XXX Corps bogged down in front of Tilly-sur-Seulles, west of Caen in the face of stiff opposition from the Panzer-Lehr-Division.[13] In an effort to force Panzer Lehr to withdraw or surrender,[15] and to keep operations fluid, the 7th Armoured Division pushed through a recently created gap in the German front line and attempted to capture the town of Villers-Bocage.[16] The resulting day long battle saw the vanguard of the 7th Armoured Division withdraw from the town,[17] but by 17 June Panzer Lehr had themselves been forced back and XXX Corps had taken Tilly-sur-Seulles.[18] A repeated attack from the 7th Armoured Division never materialised[19] and further offensive operations were abandoned when, on 19 June, a severe storm descended upon the English Channel. The storm—which lasted for three days—significantly delayed the Allied build-up.[20] Most of the convoys of landing craft and ships already at sea were driven back to ports in Britain; towed barges and other loads (including 2.5 mi (4.0 km) of floating roadways for the Mulberry harbours) were lost; and no less than 800 craft were left stranded on the Normandy beaches until the next spring tides in July.[21]

Operation Epsom

The First Battle of the Odon was the British offensive Operation Epsom. Following the storm, the next major offensive was launched. The attack intended VIII Corps to advance and capture the high ground near Bretteville-sur-Laize, to encircle Caen.[22] VIII Corps would strike, to the west of Caen, south across the River Odon and the Orne.[23] The attack was preceded by Operation Martlet[24] (also known as Operation Dauntless)[25] which was to secure VIII Corp's flank by capturing the high ground on the right of their axis of advance.[24] Although the Germans managed to contain the offensive, they had to commit all their strength,[26] including two panzer divisions newly arrived in Normandy[27] and earmarked for an offensive against British and American positions around Bayeux.[28]

Operation Jupiter

Second Battle of the Odon

As preparation for Goodwood was under way, 2nd Army launched two preliminary operations. The purpose of these operations, Montgomery stated was to "engage the enemy in battle unceasingly; we must "write off" his troops; and generally we must kill Germans". Historian Terry Copp has described this being the point where the Normandy campaign became a battle of attrition, one in which Montgomery was doing his best to ensure that the Germans collapsed first.[3]

Operation Greenline was launched at 21:30 on 15 July by XII Corps.[nb 2][30] Greenline's objective was to convince the German command that the expected assault would be launched west of the Orne river though the positions held by XII Corps.[1] This would pin the 9. and 10. SS Panzerdivisions, facing XII Corps so that they could not be used to oppose either Goodwood or Operation Cobra.[29] The operation called for XII Corps to secure a corridor to the Orne River via Bougy, Évrecy and Maizet. Like Operations Epsom and Jupiter, the fighting would take place around Hills 112, 113 and the village of Gavrus.[31]

The 277. Infantriedivision and 10. SS Panzerdivision—both under the command of II SS Panzerkorps—held the front line, with the 9. SS Panzerdivision in reserve. The British attack, supported by 450 guns, tanks, artificial moonlight,[nb 3] started well but German artillery fire disrupted the advance. By dawn, XII Corps had captured Bougy, Gavrus, Esquay-Notre-Dame and the western end of Hill 113 but had failed to capture Hill 112. The 9. SS Panzerdivision was committed to battle and by the end of the day had mostly restored the front line. The counterattack against Hill 113 failed.[32] The 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division captured Cahier and retained it after defeating several heavy counterattacks.[33] Renewed attacks by XII Corps gained no ground and during the evening of 17 July, the operation was stopped and the British force on Hill 113 was withdrawn.[34]

British Infantry occupy slit trenches between Hill 112 and Hill 113 on 16 July 1944.

On 16 July, XXX Corps launched Operation Pomegranate.[1] The 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division was to capture the villages of Noyers-Bocage, Haut des Forges and Landelle while the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division was to capture Vendes and the surrounding area.[33] The two divisions engaged elements of the 276. and 277. Infantriedivisions and the 2. Panzerdivision.[33][35] The British infantry captured the high ground south of Brettevillette and took 300 prisoners on the first day. The following day, the advance continued and heavy fighting took place on the outskirts of Noyers-Bocage.[35] The reconnaissance battalion of the 9. SS Panzerdivision was committed to the defence of Noyers-Bocage and the Germans claimed they recaptured the village,[36] although XXX Corps never claimed to have captured it as they had been held up on the outskirts. The village was still in German hands by the end of the day[35] but the high ground outside of the village and the village’s railway station were in British possession. The 49th Division was able to capture Vendes and the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division also launched an attack capturing Hottot-les-Bagues, a village that had defied them for more than a month.[33]

Analysis

These two operations cost the 2nd Army 3,500 casualties[2] and no significant gains had been made but the operations were strategically successful in that the 2. Panzer and 10. SS Panzerdivisions had been kept on the front line and the 9. SS Panzerdivision had been recalled from Corps reserve,[1][33][37] having been forced to react to each threat that developed in the Odon Valley.[2] Around 2,000 German casualties had been suffered in these two operations,[3] and on 16 July alone the 9. SS Panzerdivision recorded the loss of 23 tanks.[36] Terry Copp has called these operations the second battle of the Odon and has also stated that they rank as "one of the bloodiest encounters of the campaign".[3]

Notes

Footnotes

  1. ^ "The quick capture of that key city [Caen] and the neighbourhood of Carpiquet was the most ambitious, the most difficult and the most important task of Lieutenant-General J.T. Crocker's I Corps".[5] Wilmot states "The objectives given to Crocker's seaborne divisions were decidedly ambitious, since his troops were to land last, on the most exposed beaches, with the farthest to go, against what was potentially the greatest opposition."[6] However, Miles Dempsey always considered the possibility that the immediate seizure of Caen might fail.[7]
  2. ^ XII Corps consisted of the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division, reinforced by a brigade of 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division and the 34th Tank Brigade. The 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division was to attack and dominate the area around Hill 112 and 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division minus one brigade, was to secure the start line for these attacks.[29]
  3. ^ Bouncing searchlight beams off clouds to illuminate the ground below to aid the infantry[30]

Citations

  1. ^ a b c d e Daglish, p. 38
  2. ^ a b c Trew, p. 52
  3. ^ a b c d Copp, p. 135
  4. ^ Williams, p. 24
  5. ^ Ellis, p. 171
  6. ^ Wilmot, p. 273
  7. ^ Buckley, p. 23
  8. ^ Ellis, p. 78
  9. ^ Ellis, p. 81
  10. ^ Van-Der-Vat, p. 146
  11. ^ Wilmot, pp. 284-286
  12. ^ Ellis, p. 247
  13. ^ a b Forty, p. 36
  14. ^ Ellis, p. 250
  15. ^ Ellis, p. 254
  16. ^ Taylor, p. 10
  17. ^ Taylor p. 76
  18. ^ Forty, p. 97
  19. ^ Ellis, p. 255
  20. ^ Williams, p. 114
  21. ^ Wilmot, p. 322
  22. ^ Clark, pp. 31-32
  23. ^ Clark, pp. 32-33
  24. ^ a b Clark, p. 21
  25. ^ Ellis, p. 275
  26. ^ Hart, p. 108
  27. ^ Reynolds (2002), p. 13
  28. ^ Wilmot, p. 334
  29. ^ a b Reynolds (2002), p. 46
  30. ^ a b Reynolds (2002), p. 47
  31. ^ Reynolds (2002), pp. 46-47
  32. ^ Reynolds (2002), pp. 46-48
  33. ^ a b c d e Ellis, p. 334
  34. ^ Reynolds (2002), pp. 49-50
  35. ^ a b c Randel, p. 17
  36. ^ a b Reynolds (2002), p. 49
  37. ^ Reynolds (2002), p. 50

References

  • Buckley, John (2006) [2004]. British Armour in the Normandy Campaign 1944. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-41540-773-7. OCLC 154699922. 
  • Copp, Terry (2004) [2003]. Fields of Fire: The Canadians in Normandy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-80203-780-1. OCLC 56329119. 
  • Daglish, Ian (2005). Goodwood. Over the Battlefield. Leo Cooper Ltd. ISBN 1-84415-153-0. 
  • Ellis, Major L.F.; with Allen R.N., 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. 
  • Forty, George (2004). Villers Bocage. Battle Zone Normandy. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-75093-012-8. 
  • Taylor, Daniel (1999). Villers-Bocage Through the Lens. After the Battle. ISBN 1-87006-707-X. 
  • Trew, Simon; Badsey, Stephen (2004). Battle for Caen. Battle Zone Normandy. The History Press Ltd. ISBN 0-75093-010-1. OCLC 56759608. 
  • Van Der Vat Da, Dan (2003). D-Day; The Greatest Invasion, A People's History. Madison Press Limited. ISBN 1-55192-586-9. OCLC 51290297. 
  • Williams, Andrew (2004). D-Day to Berlin. London: Hodder. ISBN 0-34083-397-1. 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. 

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