Operation Goodwood | HistoryNet MENU

Operation Goodwood

By Ludwig Heinrich Dyck
11/22/2016 • World War II, World War II Magazine

Frustrated by weeks of failed attempts to break the deadlock around the British invasion beaches and move inland, Field Marshal Bernard F. Montgomery seized upon the idea of launching a massive armored onslaught that would capture Caen and end the stalemate in Normandy.

 

A burst from a titanic bomb flung the colossal 62-ton Tiger tank into the air and onto its back. Four Tigers of the 3rd Company, 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion, virtually invulnerable to anything but the heaviest artillery fire and airstrikes, were knocked out in the orchard outside the hamlet of Emieville, France. Others were smothered in earth that erupted from 30-foot-deep bomb craters. Though sheltered in foxholes beneath the steel behemoths, the crews’ nerves snapped. One man went insane, while two others committed suicide. Lieutenant Richard Freiherr von Rosen remembered asking himself, “Will there never be an end to these explosions?”

The 3rd Company’s troubles began on July 18, 1944, at 0525 hours with an artillery barrage that erupted on the German positions a few kilometers east-southeast of Caen. Ten minutes later there came the drone of 1,100 British heavy bombers.

British Avro Lancasters and Handley Page Halifaxes carpetbombed with high explosives to suppress German antitank guns along the flanks of a planned British attack. At 0700, 482 heavy and medium bombers of the U.S. Eighth and Ninth air forces sought victims for their noncratering fragmentation bombs along the central path of the British advance. Three hundred additional fighters and fighter-bombers then swept down on German strong points and gun emplacements.

Huge clouds of smoke and dust from the explosions diffused into the hazy opal sky above Normandy. Their view obscured, many pilots aborted their missions. Still it was not over. At 0800, 495 Eighth Air Force heavy bombers pounded the German defenders. The day would see more than 4,500 Allied aircraft in action against the Germans east of the Orne River. Some 7,700 tons of bombs were dropped on the German lines, nearly half of them in less than 45 minutes. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, called it “ the heaviest and most concentrated air assault hitherto employed in support of ground operations.”

The Allied airstrikes were the prelude to Operation Goodwood, the latest in a series of British offensives against German positions in the Caen area. Like the Americans on their right flank, the British had failed to make any decisive progress since early June, advancing at a snail’s pace and at a high cost in casualties and materiel. General Eisenhower blamed the stalemate in Normandy after D-Day on “ first as always the fighting quality of the German soldier; second the nature of the country; third the weather.” Though watered down by the low morale of foreign troops, veteran WaffenSS, Fallschirmjtiger and Wehrmacht soldiers of the German Seventh Army made the tangled bocage, or hedgerow country, a nightmare for the U.S. First Army, while its panzer divisions squared off against Lt. Gen. Miles Dempsey’s British Second Army. Storms played havoc with Allied shipping in the English Channel. The Germans in turn faced the problem of Allied air supremacy, which precluded all but night travel. If the Allies had failed to break out into the open country to the south, the Germans were likewise unable to hurl the invaders back into the sea.

Goodwood was meant to break the stalemate in conjunction with Operation Cobra, an equally ambitious American breakout attempt on the Allied western flank, several days later. For Goodwood a vast bombardment would precede an overwhelming armored assault from the eastern side of Caen. The operation was the brainchild of Dempsey and found favor with Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, overall commander of Allied ground forces, who said, “The Second Army is now very strong…and can get no stronger….So I have decided that the time has come for a real ‘showdown’ on the eastern flank, and to loose a corps of three armored divisions into the open country about the Caen-Falaise road.” Specific tactical objectives were the villages of Vimont, Garcelles-Secqueville, Hubert-Folie, Verrieres and Bretteville-sur-Laize, on the commanding Bourguebus Ridge.

Lieutenant General Richard O’Connor’s VIII Armored Corps spearheaded the British thrust, with its 11th Armored Division in the vanguard. The 11th was arguably the best British armored division, commanded by a very able North Africa veteran, Maj. Gen. George RB. “ Pip” Roberts. After the 11th came Maj. Gen. Allan Adair’s Guards Armored Division, while Maj. Gen. Bobby Erskine’s 7th Armored Division, the famed “ Desert Rats,” brought up the rear. With some 266 tanks, 361 scout and armored cars and 2 ,000 trucks in each division, the three together boasted close to 8,000 vehicles.

Covering the VIII Armored Corps’ left flank was Lt. Gen.John Crocker’s I British Corps. To the right, General Guy G. Simonds’ II Canadian Corps, in the joint operation dubbed “ Atlantic,” hoped to oust the Germans from southern Caen by attacking from the eastern, central and western areas of the city.

At 0745 a creeping artillery barrage of 200 guns heralded the armored advance. Once the order “ Move now” was given, Shermans of the 29th Armored Brigade rumbled through the dust. With their crews’ vision obscured and the ground pockmarked by bomb craters, the tanks became jumbled and soon fell behind the advancing artillery fire. From the bridgehead south of the Orne River, the tanks continued in a narrow column, first through the cleared British minefields and then through a two-kilometer wide corridor flanked by Caen’s factories to the west and a forest to the east. Beyond, a swath of open ground, sprinkled with wheat fields and hamlets, lay before the main objective some 15 kilometers to the south, the Bourguebus Ridge.

Facing the British-Canadian onslaught were the soldiers of Panzer GroupWest, part of Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge’s Army Group B. After Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was injured on July 17 by a British fighter-bomber, Kluge had assumed direct command over Panzer Group West, which fielded 194 guns, 272 rocket launchers and 377 tanks and self-propelled (SP) assault guns— far more than the Allies anticipated.

The panzer group was divided into two corps, with General Hans von Obstfelder’s LXXXVI Corps facing the British. The corps’ 346th Infantry Division was deployed from the coast to just north of Touffreville, out of the way of the main BritishCanadian thrust. The opposite was true of the already mauled 16th Luftwaffe Field Division, deployed from Touffreville west to the Colombelles factories — right in the way of the British armor.

The 16th Luftwaffe Field Division provided little more than a thin screen. The key division to hold up the British armor was Lt. Gen. Edgar Feuchtinger’s 21st Panzer Division, of Afrika Korps fame, and its Kampfgruppe (battle group) Luck. Major Hans von Luck’s battle group included the 1st and 2nd Panzergrenadier (PzGr) battalions of his own 125th PzGr Regiment and Major Alfred Becker’s 200th Sturmgeschiitze (StuG) Battalion with 75mm SP assault guns and 105mm SP artillery. On the left flank of Kampfgruppe Luck, the 21st Division’s 192nd PzGr Regiment augmented a Luftwaffe Panzerjtiger (antitank) battalion at the Colombelles factories. The 21st Division’s 1st Panzer Battalion and the independent 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion, including a few Tiger IIs, covered the right flank between Sannerville and Emieville. A battalion of the 9th Weifer (rocket launcher) Brigade was also positioned near Grentheville.

On the German left wing, Panzer Group West’s I SS Panzer Corps, led by SS Col. Gen.Josef “ Sepp” Dietrich, awaited the Canadians. Dietrich had just received the 272nd Infantry Division to take over the forward position near Caen from the exhausted 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjiigend. After very little recovery time, the Hitlerjiigend was ordered into reserve on July 16. It had a Kampfgnippe stationed farther east at Lisieux, while the rest of the division was to the south, just north of Falaise. Unknown to the British, Dietrich’s armored division, the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandane Adolf Hider (LAH), was also in reserve, on and behind the western slopes of the Bourguebus Ridge, with some of its units in additional corps reserve west of the Orne.

Field Marshal Rommel and General Heinrich Eberbach ensured that Panzer Group West sported the deepest and toughest defenses in Normandy— at 12 kilometers deep, they extended far deeper than the seven kilometers estimated by the Allies. Because of this, most of the vital German positions remained relatively unscathed by the Allied bombardment. The remnants of the green 16th Liifrwajfe Field Division, however, bore the fall brunt of the bombardment and were virtually obliterated. British Major Bill Close, commander of A Squadron, 3rd Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), 11th Armored Division, recalled, “ It really did seem that nothing could live under the bombardment, but how wrong we were.”

As the British tankers drove by the villages of Cuverville and Demouville, dazed, pallid German infantrymen wandered out of the wheat fields to surrender. At Demouville a Panzer Mark IV appeared and was promptly knocked out by the Shermans.Most German survivors remained stunned in their trenches. A few took potshots at exposed tank commanders. The tanks and motorized companies left them to be mopped up by the infantrymen following behind.

The Mark TVs of the 1st Panzer Battalion stationed in the woods between Sannerville and Emieville suffered severely under the bombardment. The waves of Shermans shot up four Mark TVs and overran another five, capturing their startled crews.The Tigers of the 503rd in the same area fared somewhat better. Those that could not be repaired were towed out, sometimes only minutes before the British tanks arrived. No British recovery units could move a Tiger anyway— in one instance it took three Tigers to tow one Tiger out! A number of Mark TVs and Tigers were repaired in the field by noon.

Colonel David Silvertop’s leading 3rd RTR tanks reached the Caen-Troarn railway line at 0830. There was some confusion due to poor visibility and congestion as the 11th Armored’s other tank regiments, the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, and the 23rd Hussars began to catch up with the 3rd RTR. Half an hour later the artillery barrage ceased, leaving only a few 25-pounder SP batteries to support the British armor.

At Le Mesnil-Frementel the ground began to slope upward to the Bourguebus Ridge. The 3rd RTR veered to the west, while the 2nd Fife and Forfar headed south. From the wheat fields, Nebelwerfer rockets howled into the air, leaving long blue-white trails. The British tanks simply overran many of them. But as they did so the Shermans and their motorized company rolled into the gun optics of Becker’s 75mm SP assault guns hidden in Le Mesnil-Frementel and in Le Poirier, which destroyed a handful of Shermans from the leading squadron of the 3rd RTR. The rear squadron of the 2nd Fife and Forfar lost another 12. To deal with the StuGs and their supporting grenadiers, the British needed more infantry, but the 11th Armored Division’s 159th Infantry Brigade was busy clearing out the remaining Germans in Cuverville and Demouville to the north. After inflicting the damage, Becker skillfully withdrew to the south, where more batteries of StuGs and 88mm dual-purpose Flak/Pak guns stood ready to engage the enemy.

On July 18, Major Luck, just back from leave in Paris and recently recommended for the Knight’s Cross, pulled his car into Cagny. The village stood just southeast of Le Mesnil-Frementel and smack-dab in the middle of the British assault. The RAF had plastered the village with 650 tons of bombs in 10 minutes, flattening the eastern part of town and resulting in confusion and lost radio contacts among the defenders.

Dismayed, the lean and wiry Luck saw 25 to 30 British tanks bypassing the western edge of the village. Then he looked north, to where his 1st Battalion, 125th Regiment, should have been. Instead the area was swarming with British tanks moving south. “ My God,” he remembered thinking, “ the bombing and artillery 1 barrage destroyed the battalion.”

Luck was driving past the still-standing village church when he spied a 16th Luftwaffe Division battery, its four 88mm barrels pointed skyward. At once Luck informed the young battery captain of the critical situation and told him: “ Hit the enemy in| the flank. In that way you’ll force the advance to a halt.” The fighting captain calmly tanks is retorted your job : “—Major I’m Luftwaffe , my concern Luck is enemy pulled planes out his pistol and pointed it at him: “ Either you’re a dead man or you can earn yourself a medal.”

 

“ I bow to your force,” exclaimed the captain. “ What must I do?” Hidden in an apple orchard, the 88s lowered their muzzles and their shells zoomed as Luck phrased it, “through a cornfield like torpedoes.” Joining the Flak  ambush were the last Pak 88s and Mark IV that remained at Cagny. Sixteen Shermans from the 2nd Fife and Forfar were blasted to bits.

The German gunners were trained to single out command or other special duty tanks. It is possible that the Cagny 88s or Becker’s earlier ambush had knocked out the 29th Brigade’s air support signal tank. It contained an airman who could call up fighter bombers. This was a real loss to the British.

Silvertop’s 3rd RTR and its supporting motorized rifle company managed to reach the vicinity of the Cormelles factory area to the west sometime after 1000. On the horizon to the north, flames and clouds of smoke spiraled up from Caen. As many as 3,000 Frenchmen perished in the Allied bombing.

The regiment turned south and struck out toward its objectives of Bras and Hubert-Folie. On the British right, the 2nd Fife and Forfar pushed past Four and Sobers toward the eastern leg of the Bourguebus Ridge, between the village of Bourguebus and La Hogue.

The two tank regiments charged up the open slope. When they were within a kilometer of the walled brick-and-stone Norman villages that dotted the ridge, scores of dug-in and camouflaged 88s flashed into action.

Major Close saw two tanks on his left knocked out before an armor-piercing round severed a track on his own vehicle. “ Bail out, sir!” shouted his crew. All made it out. Close ran over to the next tank, climbed inside and resumed command of A Squadron. Despite his bravery, the situation turned hopeless. “ Within seconds, 15 of our tanks were stationary and on fire,” he remembered. “ All attempts to turn aside to left or right failed. By late afternoon we had only a few tanks left that were still intact. The other company fared no better. We had to break off the advance and withdraw.”

The grinding sounds made by Lt. Col. Joachim Peiper’s dreaded 1st SS Panzer Regiment’s Panthers and StuGs reverberated from the ridge. They pulled into position to greet the 2nd Fife and Forfar. Peiper’s armor was part of Dietrich’s crack unit, which General Eberbach had ordered over to the LXXXVI Corps sector to stop the British armor. The open ground was perfect country for the Panthers’ long-range, high velocity 75mm guns. Within a few minutes the LAH StuGs and Panthers shot up 29 Shermans, killing their commanding officers.

While the 3rd RTR and the 2nd Fife and Forfar were being decimated , the 23rd Hussars, held in reserve around Grentheville, were temporarily ordered not to advance past Sobers. Behind them the tanks of the Guards Armored Division’s 5th Armored Brigade entered the battle. Its 1st Armored Coldstream Guards and 2nd Armored Irish Guards regiments bypassed Cagny via a detour through Le Mesnil-Frementel on their way to Vimont. But in so doing, they blocked the forward elements of the 7th Armored Division coming up from behind. Simultaneously, the 3rd Guards’ tank regiment, the 2nd Armored Grenadier Guards, engaged the Cagny 88s, only to lose another 20 tanks.

Coming to the rescue of the beleaguered Cagny Flak were nine Mark IVs and 10 Tigers from the Emieville area. Although they could drive and shoot, all the still-functioning Tigers of the 503rd were in rough shape, and their sights were still out of alignment. Worse still, the Luftwaffe 88s mistook them for Shermans and knocked out two Tigers. The counterattack floundered, and the Tigers and Mark IVs drew back to Le Poirier and Frenouville.

Finally faced with the arrival of the Guards Division’s 32nd Infantry Brigade, at 1600 the Luftwaffe crews blew up their 88s and withdrew. Guards wireless operator G.H. Marsen described the scene: “ I could see Caen just to my right, the whole area was on fire, the earth shuddering from the bombing and shelling. I saw at least 40 Sherman tanks blazing….Our captives were mere boys, running toward our lines with hands on their heads….But they still retaliated with shellfire and most of all the dreaded ‘Moaning Minnies,’ the electrically propelled mortar; to be caught in their fire was certain disaster.” German resistance continued at Cagny until 2000.

Meanwhile, around 1430 the 23rd Hussars reached the smoldering tank hulks of the 2nd Fife and Forfars near Sobers and Four. On the ridge, the German division commander, SS Brig. Gen. Theodor “ Teddy” Wisch, joined the LAH panzers. They combined with Becker’s assault guns in Soliers and the tanks in Le Poirier and Frenouville to engulf the hussars in a cauldron of fire.

The 1st Coldstream Guards captured Le Poirier at 1630. Two and a half hours later, panzer fire from Frenouville stopped an advance by the 2nd Irish Guards on Vimont. On the way there Lieutenant John Gorman of the Irish Guards drove his tank headlong at a Tiger II plowing through a hedge. With the order “ Traverse left-on-fire!” the Sherman’s 75mm shell hit the front of the Tiger but bounced off into the air. When ordered to fire again, the gunner replied, “ Gun jammed, sir.” With horror the lieutenant watched the Tiger’s gun slowly turn toward him. Risking it all, the Irish tankers rammed the Tiger before it had a chance to fire. On impact, both crews bailed out, and with heavy shelling going on, both crews jumped for cover into the same slit trench. The lieutenant, however, crawled to a nearby Sherman Firefly, loaded its 17-pounder gun and blew up the Tiger with a penetrating shot at point-blank range. He then collected his own and the Tiger’s crew.

Heavy fighting continued on the western flank of the battle. At Bras the LAH StuGs met Pip Roberts’ last reserves, the Cromwells of his 2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry (NY) Reconnaissance Regiment. Sixteen Cromwells were destroyed. Together with the 33 tanks lost by the 23rd Hussars, the 45 from the 3rd RTR and the 47 from the 2nd Fife and Forfars, the 11th Armored Division lost 141 tanks. The Guards division lost another 60.

Hans von Luck blamed the poor British performance on lack of infantry support to take out German antitank pockets. Colonel Kurt Meyer of the Hitlerjugend asked: “ Where is the spirit of the Light Brigade at Balaclava…? The enemy drag themselves across the ground like turtle[s]….” In fact, slowed down by traffic congestion, by the fighting ahead of it andbyroamingTigers,the7thArmored Division did not even join the battle.

At the end of the day, British tanks and infantry were entrenched from Le Mesnil-Frementel-Cagny to Frenouville-Emieville. But the British advance had crawled to a standstill, and the villages on the crest of the Bourguebus Ridge remained firmly in German hands.The VIII Corps had lost 521 men, with 81 killed in the tank regiments. Casualties among the 11th Armored’s infantry battalions were only 20, mainly because overly cautious movement and poor coordination kept the infantry from supporting their tank regiments at vital times.

On the western flank of the British armor, the Canadian I Corps seized the Caen suburbs and factories from the 272nd Infantry Division and 16th Luftwaffe elements after a stiff fight that resulted in 200 Canadian casualties. On the eastern flank, the British I Corps inflicted 651 casualties and knocked out 18 tanks, mostly as a result of the bombardment, and drove the Germans out of Touffreville and Sannerville.

All this was less than clear at the various British headquarters, where complete confusion reigned. Army commander Dempsey even turned down an offer from the RAF’s Tactical Air Force for a bombing run on Bourguebus Ridge because he thought it unnecessary.Montgomery himself seemed to be on another planet. While his armor bled to death on the Bourguebus, he ecstatically sent a message to the chief of the Imperial General Staff: “ Complete success…bombing decisive…spectacle terrific…difficult to see what enemy can do…few tanks met so far.” That night at 2100, BBC news blurted out the words, “ Second Army attacked and broke through…General Montgomery is well satisfied.” Everyone in England thought Montgomery had achieved a second Alamein.

The Germans were worried about an infantry night attack, but none came. Instead the British consolidated their position and funneled replacement tanks to their mauled regiments. That same night it was the turn of the Luftwaffe to carry out a successful 50-plane raid against the British bridgehead. The Guards and 11th Armored Division’s administrative personnel and replacement tank crews sustained heavy casualties during the raid.

With the British poised for another assault, elements from Kurt Meyer’s 12th SS Panzer Division trickled in at 0530 onJuly 19. By midday, a Hitlerjugend Kampfgruppe took over the majority of the 21st Panzer’s western positions as Luck’s Kampfgruppe pulled out for a rest. With the Hitlerjugend holding the eastern Bourguebus ridges and the area east to the woods, and the LAH on the western ridges, the dreaded panzer divisions of the I SS Corps fought shoulder to shoulder for the first time.

At first light the 3rd RTR again drove up the slope toward Bras and Hubert-Folie. Major Close related that “ as we reached the line of tanks burned out the day before, we again encountered heavy fire, intensified by more tanks on the ridge.” No sooner had Close hopped out of his tank to help some wounded crews than a shell smashed into his own tank’s turret, instantly killing the gunner and operator. “ Once again I had to turn out a tank commander and take command from his tank,” he said.

At 0700 a company of the LAH’s 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment attacked from Four and recaptured Le Poirier. To the east, a Hitlerjugend grenadier battalion repulsed weak attacks by the 32nd Guards Infantry Brigade at Emieville.

The 2nd NY went for Bras but got lost and exposed its flanks to the German guns in the village of Ifs. “ Half their tanks were brewed up or knocked out,” Close remembered. The situation changed with the arrival of British field guns in the afternoon. After they pounded the village, the 3rd RTR with grenadiers joined the assault under cover of a smoke screen. One of the two LAH StuGs defending the village was knocked out. The LAH grenadiers abandoned Bras at 1900, leaving many of their dead behind. By that time the victorious 3rd RTR had been reduced to a pitiful nine tanks from an original 63.

While British troops were still busy mopping up in Bras, the 2nd NY’s Cromwells drove on to Hubert-Folie at 1810. A hail of machine gun fire erupted from LAH grenadiers and StuGs in the village, supported by Peiper’s hull-down panzers farther up on the ridge, decimating the 2nd NY. At 2000 it was the 2nd Fife and Forfar’s turn to storm Hubert-Folie. To their surprise they took the village without opposition, the LAH grenadiers having pulled back up the ridge to join Peiper at Verrieres.

 

An hour earlier, the 32nd Guards Infantry went for Le Poirier. The village again changed hands. But when the 32nd pushed on to Frenouville, the Hitlerjugend grenadiers, backed by Jagdpanzers, brought its advance to a halt.

 

At Four and Sobers, the LAH’s 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment carried out a similar fight-and-withdraw tactic, at first delaying the 7th Armored Division’s 22nd Brigade, which was pulling back to the Bourguebus-La Hogue ridge. The 5th RTR tried to sweep around Bourguebus, but its attack again withered in the face of Peiper’s 1st Panzer Regiment. The British tankers drew back to Four and Sobers, having lost eight Shermans.

 

At nightfall on the second day of Goodwood, the British- Canadian forces stood poised in front of the Bourguebus Ridge, which still remained in German possession. The defensive victory was especially hard on the LAH’s 1st StuG Battalion, which had only three operational vehicles left from an original 20.

 

The next day, July 20, saw the Guards Armored Division thrust towards the southeast, taking Frenouville and Emieville. The villages were abandoned by the Hitlerjugend, which wanted to shorten its frontal sector. However, the youths of the 12th SS repulsed the Guards at Vimont.

 

In the British center, the 7th Armored Division finally secured the likewise abandoned village of Bourguebus. But its 4th County of London Yeomanry Armored Regiment and a company of the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade were prevented from advancing farther up the slope toward Verrieres by the fire of Dietrich’s panzers and the Tigers of SS Captain Michael Wittman’s 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion.

 

Dempsey decided that his armored regiments were too battered to continue and ordered the tanks to pull back. The VIII Corps would hold its current positions with infantry. It was now time for the Canadians to show their mettle and make a try for Verrieres.

 

Around 1500, supported by Canadian and British artillery and Hawker Typhoons, the Canadian 6th Infantry Brigade met the SS and a newly arrived Kampfgruppe of the 2nd (Austrian) Panzer Division in a climactic finale. In a reverse of earlier British armored attacks, which lacked infantry support, the Canadian infantry attacked with precious little tank support.

The Canadians began with a promising start. “ The day was hot and the roads were dust,” recalled Gordon Amos, an anti-tank gunner. “ We were green but we soon ripened up.” Supported by rocket-firing Typhoons, the Camerons of Canada seized St. Andre-sur-Orne from the 272nd Infantry Division. Shortly thereafter the Germans plastered the village with artillery and mortar fire.

 

The South Saskatchewan Regiment struck for the Beauvoir and Troteval farms. Germans sniped at the Canadians from wheat shocks.The Canadians replied with phosphorus grenades. “ When the snipers see the odd guy come screaming out of a grain stook, his uniform covered with burning phosphorus, they start popping up all over the place with their hands up,” said Captain Britton Smith.

But when rain darkened the skies and drove off the Typhoons, Mark IV tanks of the 5th and 6th companies of the LAH’s 2nd SS Panzer Battalion, a StuG company and SS grenadiers viciously counterassaulted. MG42 machine guns cut down scores of Canadian infantrymen. Panzer shells knocked out the few supporting tanks. The Canadians in the center broke and ran through the fields.Two companies of the FusiliersMont Royal were all but annihilated. In their first real action, the South Saskatchewans alone took 208 casualties, including their commander.

The German versus Canadian duel continued throughout the night. The rain poured down in buckets, turning the ground into a quagmire. Unrelenting fire from their field guns enabled the Fusiliers Mont Royal to hold onto Troteval farm into the next morning.

Renewed attacks by the LAH in the morning of the 21st brought the Essex Scottish casualties up to 301. The regiment was only able to withdraw because of the timely appearance of the Canadian Black Watch, alongside tanks of the 1st Hussars and Sherbrooke Fusiliers.

Goodwood had reached its end; the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS had shredded the British and Canadians. Skillful fighting withdrawals combined with aggressive and well-coordinated counterattacks within a deep defensive belt demonstrated the German genius for a fluid defense. Sepp Dietrich also praised the mechanics of the nearby German tank repair shops, personally awarding them all with the Iron Cross Second Class.

Aided by poor weather that limited Allied air support, as well as poor British coordination and intelligence, Goodwood became perhaps the greatest German defensive victory of the Normandy campaign. The British suffered 3,474 casualties among the VIII and I corps, the Canadians another 1,965. Two hundred and fifty-three tanks were destroyed, although a fair number of them were later repaired. On the other hand, the Germans salvaged enough Shermans to equip an entire company of the 21st Panzer Division. The heavy British and Canadian sacrifices extended the Allied bridgehead by only nine kilometers and failed to secure the vital crest of the Bourguebus Ridge. Though the British and Canadians held most of the northern slope, only one of the five main tactical objectives, the village of Hubert-Folie, had been secured.

Goodwood also failed to “write down the German armor,” as Montgomery had phrased it.The Germans lost only 75 tanks in the battle. And significantly, more than 40 of those were lost to Allied bombing. German personnel losses were relatively light as well, though the continuing attrition was clearly wearing down the panzer divisions.

Incredibly, Montgomery calmly claimed that Goodwood had achieved everything he had hoped for. The validity of his position after Goodwood when compared to his prebattle expectations has been much debated. This was because Dempsey’s original operational order had also listed Falaise as one of the objectives. On July 15, however, Montgomery changed Falaise to a target for reconnaissance units only, but failed to notify Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) of the change. The likely reason was that Montgomery doubted that Goodwood would achieve a decisive breakthrough, but publicly he supported that notion to gain the required air support.

What the British and Canadian troops expected became clear to Luck. Canadian prisoners told him that Monty had called out, “To Falaise, boys, we’re going to march on Paris.” SHAEF certainly expected as much. Furious at Monty’s failure, Eisenhower commented that the Allies could hardly expect to advance through France at the rate of 1,000 tons of bombs per mile. All the senior air commanders were angry, as they had been eager to secure airfields for their shortrange fighters south of Caen. Even Churchill was disappointed with Monty.

In Montgomery’s defense, though, Goodwood managed to draw the bulk of the panzer divisions away from the American western flank. On July 25 the American breakout of Cobra, delayed by the bad weather, finally got underway to coincide with Operation Spring, another British-Canadian offensive with virtually the same goals as Goodwood. By that time there were seven panzer divisions facing the British and Canadians as opposed to the two panzer divisions and one Panzergrenadier division that bolstered the German infantry divisions facing the Americans. Nevertheless, the major contribution of Goodwood was not so much the diversion of German armor but rather the diversion of the deteriorating German supplies to the British sector. When Cobra broke loose in the St. Lo sector, the Germans not only faced a better-planned and -executed operation, but they also lacked the supplies to sustain an effective defense.

 

Originally published in the August 2004 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.

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