July 14, 2017

1944. British Troops Batter Through Enemy Forces

Battle of the Odon
"An ammunition carrier of the British 11th Armoured Division explodes after it is hit by a mortar round during Operation Epsom," June 26, 1944 (source)
From The Manchester Guardian, June 28, 1944, p. 5:
Many Clashes with Enemy Tanks, but "Tigers" Avoid Pitched Battle
From Edward Gilling, Exchange Telegraph War Correspondent


Battering their way through enemy forces British troops to-day got astride the main Caen-Villers Bocage road in the Grainville-Mouen area south of Cheux. This represented an advance of several thousand yards during this morning after heavy fighting all along the sector where the British forces are attacking.

The enemy threw in his tanks in an effort to throw back our forces, but found our armour covering our infantry ready and willing to engage them. Several clashes with German Panthers followed in which a number of enemy tanks were knocked out. Our anti-tank gunners also did good work in accounting for five Panthers which tried to get round the back of our advancing infantry.

There was a considerable amount of confused fighting on and around "Banana Ridge," which is a dominating feature near Cheux commanding a large area of open country to the south. It was around here that our anti-tank gunners succeeded in knocking out the five Panthers, which formed part of a squadron of enemy tanks and which the enemy had sent out from his right flank in an endeavour to cut through our infantry.

The infantry on the slopes had their anti-tank screen of 17-pounders and 6-pounders cleverly hidden, and as the German tanks came in they met with a hot reception. Enemy artillery which had been rushed up, including a large number of "88" dual-purpose guns, supported their tanks in this clash, but they were quickly engaged by our infantry.

Later this morning, as our infantry pushed forward towards the Caen-Villers road, the enemy sent out another force of Tigers and Panthers with the object of getting around and behind our infantry and cutting them off. But our tanks were ready, and a series of clashes occurred in which some enemy tanks were knocked out.


It was a night of drenching rain that the British attack was resumed this morning under blue skies which promised much better weather. But the blue skies did not remain for long, and later heavy clouds again blew up.

Enemy tanks which had apparently been switched tried to break up our infantry as they pushed forward down the slopes. Enemy infantry in the orchards mortared and machine-gunned, but our forces got in among them, burning out many of these nests.

The enemy covered the roads and lanes with mortar and machine-gun fire at many points, but our infantry pushed through, while behind them came our tanks, always ready and willing to lend a helping hand in clearing up these enemy strong points. There was, however, bitter fighting in some of the woods and orchards purely between infantry, as it was impossible here for our tanks to get access to help our infantry owing to the close nature of the country.

Churning up mud as they ploughed across the countryside, our tanks were, however, always near at hand should the enemy try his old trick of sending out his tanks to get round the back of our infantry and cut them off.


It was after our infantry had crossed the railway just north of the Caen-Villers road that the enemy tanks came in from the west.

They milled around more in a threatening attitude than attempting to come on in any great strength. Then they found our tanks forming a solid wall behind our infantry, and the Tigers and Panthers apparently preferred firing from hull-down positions to engaging in a tank versus tank battle at this point.

The enemy infantry were using every piece of cover that they were able to find, and sniping and counter-sniping went on in long grass and cornfields. Sometimes our infantry made ground rapidly before running against Germans defending strong points, often in farm yards. Always the enemy fought fiercely to hang on to these positions.


Although our force had got astride the main road by noon, which represented an advance of several thousand yards to-day, enemy opposition appeared to be stiffening. The enemy appears to be recovering from the surprise of the first punch.

Fighting around the ridge at Rauray, a mile north of Grainville, was particularly severe, and the ground changed hands several times. This ridge is thickly wooded, and our infantry had to face continual infiltration by the enemy who, after surrendering a few hundred yards of ground, came back again to dispute it hotly.

The enemy put down heavy fire on the railway just north of the main road, but our infantry got across quickly while our guns took on the enemy on our right flank. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place for the crossing of a small stream, the banks of which were littered with dead.


Ross Munro (Canadian press war correspondent) said in a dispatch last night that British infantry reached Colleville in heavy fighting. A British officer said the retreating Germans left great numbers of snipers hidden in tree-tops. "They were pests," he said, "and our tanks fired bursts into every tree they passed."

German guns south of Marcelet checked a British advance to the St. Manvieu area during the night, but were unable to prevent the drive to Colleville. West of Colleville eight German tanks attacked before dawn at Grainville, but four were knocked out and the remainder fell back.


Bill Downs, C.B.S. commentator, broadcasting from Normandy last night, said that British troops had reached the Odon River some six miles south-west of Caen. "This is a most important development," Downs said. "The British troops are now creating a steady threat to the south-western flank of the Caen defences. The Germans are fighting back stubbornly with their guns and tanks. They are, however, short of infantry." — REUTERS