|Part of Battle for Caen|
Two M4 Sherman and one Sherman Firefly tanks carrying infantry, and a Sherman Crab wait for the order to advance at the start of Operation 'Goodwood', 18 July 1944
|United Kingdom||Nazi Germany|
|Commanders and leaders|
Günther von Kluge|
Hans von Obstfelder
|[nb 2] – ~1,300 tanks[nb 3]|||
|Casualties and losses|
| – 100 tanks destroyed|
|aMore detailed information is available in the 'Casualties' section|
|Operational scope||Strategic Offensive|
|Planned by||British Second Army|
|Executed by||VIII Corps, Second Army. Supporting attacks made by elements of I Corps, Second Army.|
Operation Goodwood was a Second World War British offensive that took place between 18 and 20 July 1944. British VIII Corps, with three armoured divisions, launched the attack aiming to seize the German-held Bourguébus Ridge, along with the area between Bretteville-sur-Laize and Vimont, while also destroying as many German tanks as possible.
Goodwood was proceeded by preliminary attacks dubbed the Second Battle of the Odon. On 18 July, British I Corps conducted an advance to secure a series of villages and the eastern flank of VIII Corps. On VIII Corps's western flank, Canadian II Corps launched a coordinated attack—codenamed Operation Atlantic—aimed at capturing the remaining German-held sections of the city of Caen south of the Orne River.
When Operation Goodwood ended on 20 July, the armoured divisions had broken through the initial German defences and had advanced seven miles before coming to a halt in front of the Bourguébus Ridge, although armoured cars had penetrated further south and over the ridge.
Since 1944, there has been controversy over what the actual objective of the operation was: whether it was a limited attack to secure Caen and pin German formations in the eastern region of the Normandy beachhead, preventing them from disengaging to join the counterattack against the US Operation Cobra, or a failed attempted breakout from the Normandy bridgehead. At least one historian has called the operation the largest tank battle that the British Army has ever fought.
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. 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 Crocker's I Corps.[nb 4] Operation Overlord called for Second 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 United States First Army while it moved on Cherbourg. Possession of Caen and its surroundings would give Second Army a suitable staging area for a push south to capture Falaise, which could itself be used as the pivot for a swing left to advance on Argentan and then towards the Touques River. 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.
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-mile (15.0 km) route to the town, the 3rd Division was unable to assault Caen in force and was stopped short of the outskirts. Follow-up attacks were unsuccessful as German resistance solidified; abandoning the direct approach, Operation Perch—a pincer attack by I and XXX Corps—was launched on 7 June, with the intention of encircling Caen from the east and west. I Corps, striking south out of the Orne bridgehead, was halted by the 21st Panzer Division, 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. In an effort to force Panzer Lehr to withdraw or surrender and thereby keep operations fluid, the 7th Armoured Division pushed through a gap in the German front line and tried to capture the town of Villers-Bocage in the German rear. The resulting day long battle saw the vanguard of the 7th Armoured Division withdraw from the town, but by 17 June Panzer Lehr had themselves been forced back and XXX Corps had taken Tilly-sur-Seulles. The British were forced to abandon plans for further offensive operations, including a second attack by the 7th Armoured Division, 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. Most of the landing craft and ships already at sea were driven back to ports in Britain; towed barges and other loads (including 2.5 miles (4.0 km) of floating roadways for the Mulberry harbours) were lost; and 800 craft were left stranded on the Normandy beaches until the next high tides in July.
Having taken a few days to make good the deficiencies caused by the storm, on 26 June the British launched Operation Epsom. The newly arrived VIII Corps, under Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O'Connor, was to strike to the west of Caen south across the Odon and Orne rivers, capture an area of high ground near Bretteville-sur-Laize, and thus encircle the city. The attack was preceded by Operation Martlet, the aim of which was to secure VIII Corp's flank by capturing high ground on the right of the axis of advance. Although the Germans managed to contain the offensive, to do so they had been obliged to commit all their available strength including two panzer divisions just arrived in Normandy and earmarked for a planned offensive against British and American positions around Bayeux. Several days later Second Army made another bid to gain possession of Caen, this time by frontal assault, codenamed Operation Charnwood. As a prelude Operation Windsor, a postponed attack to capture the airfield at Carpiquet just outside Caen, was mounted. By 9 July Charnwood had succeeded in taking northern Caen up to the Orne and Odon rivers, but German forces retained possession of the south bank and a number of important locations including the Colombelles steel works, whose tall chimneys gave them commanding observation posts overlooking the area.
Planning and preparation
On 10 July, General Bernard Montgomery, the commander of all the Allied ground forces in Normandy, held a meeting at his headquarters with his army commanders, Lieutenant-Generals Miles Dempsey (British Second Army) and Omar Bradley (United States First Army). They discussed 21st Army Group's employment following the conclusion of Operation Charnwood and the failure of First Army's initial breakout offensive. Montgomery approved Bradley's suggestion for a new offensive codenamed Operation Cobra, a second American breakout attempt to be launched by First Army on 18 July. To facilitate Cobra Montgomery ordered Dempsey to "go on hitting: drawing the German strength, especially the armour, onto yourself - so as to ease the way for Brad".
In early July, Montgomery had been informed by the Adjutant-General to the Forces, Ronald Adam, that, due to a worsening manpower shortage in Britain, sufficient replacements to maintain his infantry strength would not be forthcoming. This led Dempsey[nb 5] to propose an attack consisting solely of armoured divisions, a concept that violated Montgomery's personal policy of never employing such an unbalanced force. However, tanks were one commodity with which the British were plentifully supplied. By mid-July, Second Army had 2,250 medium tanks and 400 light tanks in the bridgehead, of which 500 were in reserve to replace losses. These were organised into three armoured divisions[nb 6] and seven independent armoured / tank brigades.[nb 7]
At 10:00 on 13 July, Dempsey met with three of his five corps commanders[nb 8] to discuss his idea. Later that day, the first written order for Operation Goodwood—named after the Glorious Goodwood race meeting—was issued. This document contained only preliminary instructions and the operation's general intentions; it was intended mainly to stimulate detailed planning and alterations were expected. In addition to Second Army's staff, the order was sent to senior planners in the United Kingdom so that air support for the operation could be secured.
When VIII Corps had first assembled in Normandy in mid-June, it was suggested that the corps be used to attack out of the Orne bridgehead in an attempt to outflank Caen from the east. However this offensive, codenamed Operation Dreadnought, was cancelled when Dempsey and O'Connor made pessimistic assessments to Montgomery regarding the difficulties involved in such an undertaking.[nb 9] In Goodwood's outline plan, VIII Corps, with three armoured divisions, would now strike south out of the Orne Bridgehead. The 11th Armoured Division was to advance south-west over the Bourguébus Ridge and the Caen-Falaise road, aiming for Bretteville-sur-Laize. The Guards Armoured Division was to push south-east to capture Vimont and Argences, and 7th Armoured Division, starting last, was to aim south for Falaise itself. The 3rd Infantry Division, supported by elements of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division, was to secure VIII Corps's eastern flank by capturing the area around Émiéville, Touffréville and Troarn. Simultaneously II Canadian Corps would launch a supporting attack on VII Corps's western flank. Codenamed Operation Atlantic, the Canadian offensive was intended to liberate Caen south of the Orne river. The British and Canadian operations were tentatively scheduled for 18 July, Bradley's estimate for Cobra's start date having been pushed back by two days to enable his US First Army to secure its start line around Saint-Lô.
Detailed planning for Operation Goodwood began on Friday 14 July, but the next day Montgomery issued a written directive ordering Dempsey to make the operation less ambitious. It was to be changed from a "deep break-out" to a "limited attack". Anticipating that the Germans would be forced to commit their armoured reserves rather than risk a massed British tank breakthrough, Dempsey's force was instructed to "engage the German armour in battle and 'write it down' to such an extent that it is of no further value to the Germans". He was to take any opportunity to improve Second Army's position—the orders stated that "a victory on the eastern flank will help us to gain what we want on the western flank"—but not to endanger its role as a "firm bastion" on which the success of the forthcoming American offensive would depend. The objectives of Dempsey's three armoured divisions were rewritten accordingly. They were now only to "dominate the area Bourguébus-Vimont-Bretteville", although it was intended that "armoured cars should push far to the south towards Falaise, spread[ing] alarm and despondency". VIII Corps's objective was changed too, from a wide punch south towards Falaise to a limited thrust to the southwest of Caen. The objectives for II Canadian Corps remained largely unaltered and it was stressed that these were vital. Only following their achievement would VIII Corps "'crack about' as the situation demands".
The 11th Armoured Division was assigned to lead the advance and was tasked with screening Cagny and capturing Bras, Hubert-Folie, Verrières and Fontenay-le-Marmion. Its armoured brigade was to bypass the majority of the German-held villages in its operational area, leaving them to be dealt with by follow-up waves. The division's infantry component, the 159th Infantry Brigade, was initially to act independently of the rest of the division and capture Cuverville and Démouville. The Guards Armoured Division, advancing behind the 11th Armoured Division, was to capture Cagny and Vimont. Starting last, the 7th Armoured Division was to move south beyond the Garcelles-Secqueville ridge. Further advances by the armoured divisions were to be conducted only on Dempsey's order. II Canadian Corps's detailed orders were issued a day later. The corps was to first liberate Colombelles and the remaining portion of Caen, and then to hold itself in readiness to move on the strongly held Verrières Ridge. If the German front collapsed a deeper advance would be considered.
Second Army's intelligence services had formed a good estimate of the opposition Operation Goodwood was likely to face, although the German positions beyond the first line of villages had to be inferred mainly from inconclusive air reconnaissance. The German defensive line was believed to consist of two belts up to four miles deep. Aware that the Germans were expecting a large attack out of the Orne bridgehead, the British initially anticipated meeting resistance from the 16th Luftwaffe Field Division bolstered by SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 25 of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. Signals intelligence ascertained that the 12th SS Panzer Division had been moved into reserve, and although it was slow to discover that SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 25 was not with the 16th Luftwaffe Field Division, having also been placed into reserve, this oversight was rectified before 18 July. Battle groups of the 21st Panzer Division, with around 50 Panzer IV tanks and 34 assault guns, were expected near Route nationale 13. The 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was identified in reserve with an estimated 40 Panther tanks and 60 Panzer IV's,[nb 10] and the presence of two heavy tank battalions equipped with Tiger tanksdisambiguation needed was established.[nb 11] German armoured strength was estimated at 230 tanks and artillery strength at 300 field and anti-tank guns.[nb 12] Second Army believed that 90 of these guns were in the centre of the battle zone, 40 on the flanks, and a further 20 defending the Caen-Vimont railway line. The British had also located a German gun line on the Bourguébus Ridge, but its strength and gun positions were unknown.
In an attempt to mask the operation's objectives, Second Army initiated a deception plan that included diversionary attacks launched by XII and XXX Corps. Dempsey's three armoured divisions moved to their staging positions west of the Orne only at night and in radio silence, and artillery fire was used to mask the noise of the tank engines. During the hours of daylight all efforts were made to camouflage their new positions.
For artillery support, Goodwood was allocated 760 guns[nb 13] with 297,600 rounds.[nb 14] Prior to the assault these were to attempt to suppress German anti-tank, anti-aircraft and field artillery positions, and during the assault would provide the 11th Armoured Division with a rolling barrage. They would also assist the attacks launched by the 3rd Infantry and 2nd Canadian Infantry Divisions and, throughout the operation, fire on targets as requested. Additional support would be provided by three ships of the Royal Navy,[nb 15] whose targets were German gun batteries located near the coast in the region of Cabourg and Franceville.
Augmenting the preliminary artillery bombardment, 2,077[nb 16] heavy and medium bombers of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) would attack in three waves, in the largest air raid launched in direct support of ground forces in the campaign so far. Speed was an essential part of the Goodwood battle plan and it was hoped that the aerial bombardment would pave the way for the 11th Armoured Division to rapidly secure the Bourguébus Ridge. Dempsey believed that if the operation were to succeed, his tanks would need to be on the ridge by the first afternoon. He therefore cancelled a second attack by heavy bombers scheduled for the first afternoon. Although this was to be in direct support of the advance towards the ridge he was concerned that the 11th Armoured Division should not be delayed waiting for the strike.
Close air support for Goodwood would be provided by No. 83 Group RAF, which was tasked with neutralising German positions on the flanks of VIII Corps' planned advance and strong points such as the village of Cagny, attacking German gun and reserve positions, and the interdiction of German troop movement. Each of VIII Corps's brigade headquarters was allocated a Forward Air Control Post to assist with coordinating air support.
The engineering resources of Second Army, I and VIII Corps, and the divisional engineers were put to work between 13 July and the evening of 16 July building six new roads from west of the Orne River to the start lines east of the river and the Caen Canal. Engineers from I Corps strengthened existing bridges and built two new sets of bridges across the Orne and the canal. They were further tasked with constructing another two sets of bridges by the end of the operation's first day.[nb 17] II Canadian Corps planned to construct up to three bridges across the Orne as soon as the opportunity presented itself, giving I and VIII Corps exclusive access to the river and canal bridges north of Caen. Engineers from the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division, with a small detachment from the 3rd Infantry Division, were ordered to breach the German minefield in front of the Highland Division's position. This was largely accomplished during the night of 16–17 July when they cleared and marked 14 gaps. By the morning of 18 July, 19 40-foot (12 m) wide gaps had been completed, each allowing one armoured regiment to pass through at a time.[nb 18]
The 11th Armoured Division's infantry brigade, with the divisional and 29th Armoured Brigade's headquarters, crossed into the Orne bridgehead during the night of 16–17 July. The rest of the division followed the next night. The Guards and 7th Armoured Divisions were held west of the river until the operation began. As the final elements of the 11th Armoured Division moved into position and VIII Corps's headquarters took up residence in Bény-sur-Mer additional gaps in the minefields were blown, the forward areas were signposted, and routes to be taken marked with white tape.
The Germans considered the Caen area to be the linchpin of their position in Normandy and were determined to maintain a defensive arc from the English Channel to the west bank of the Orne. On 15 July German military intelligence warned Panzer Group West that from 17 July onwards a British attack out of the Orne bridgehead was likely. It was thought that the British would push south-east towards Paris.
To meet this threat, General Heinrich Eberbach, the commanding officer of Panzer Group West, designed a defensive plan, with its details worked out by his two corps and six divisional commanders. A belt of at least 10 miles (16 km) depth was constructed, organised into four successive lines. Villages within the belt were fortified and anti-tank guns emplaced along its southern and eastern edges. To allow their tanks to move freely within the belt, the Germans decided not to establish anti-tank minefields between each defensive line.
On 16 July, several intelligence-gathering flights were mounted over the British front, but most of these were driven off by anti-aircraft fire. However, as darkness fell, camera-equipped aircraft managed to bring back photographs taken by the light of dropped flares that revealed a one-way flow of traffic over the Orne and into the British bridgehead. Further confirming the suspicion that preparations for an offensive were underway, later that same day a British reconnaissance Supermarine Spitfire was shot down over German lines while photographing defences; British artillery and fighters attempted to destroy the crashed aircraft but without success.
LXXXVI Corps, heavily reinforced by artillery, held the front line. Its 346th Infantry Division was dug in between the coast to the north of Touffreville, while the battered 16th Luftwaffe Infantry Division held the next section from Touffreville to Colombelles. Kampfgruppe von Luck, a battle group formed around the 21st Panzer Division's 125th Panzergrenadier Regiment, was placed behind these forces with around 30 assault guns. The 21st Panzer Division's armoured elements, reinforced with the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion, which included ten King Tigers, were northeast of Cagny in a position to support von Luck's men and to act as a general reserve, while the rest of the division's panzergrenadiers, with towed anti-tank guns and assault guns, were dug in amongst the villages of the Caen plain. 21st Panzer's reconnaissance and pioneer battalions were positioned on the Bourguébus Ridge to protect the corps's artillery. This consisted of around 48 field and medium guns with an equal number of Nebelwerfer rocket launchers. In total, LXXXVI Corps had 194 artillery pieces, 272 Nebelwerfers, and 78 anti-aircraft and anti-tank 88 mm guns available. One battery of four 88 mm anti-aircraft guns, from the 2nd Flak-Sturm Regiment, was positioned in Cagny, while in the villages along the Bourguébus Ridge there was a screen of 44 88 mm anti-tank guns from the 200th Tank Destroyer Battalion.[nb 19] However, the majority of LXXXVI Corps's guns were sited beyond the ridge covering the Caen-Falaise road.
Facing Caen to the west of the Caen-Falaise road was the I SS Panzer Corps. On 14 July, elements of the 272nd Infantry Division took over the defence of Vaucelles from the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, who moved into local reserve between the village of Ifs and the east bank of the Orne. The following day the 12th SS Panzer Division was placed in Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) reserve to rest and refit, and—on Hitler's orders—to be in a position to meet a feared second Allied landing between the Orne and Seine rivers. The division's artillery regiment and anti-aircraft battalion remained behind to support the 272nd Infantry Division, and two battlegroups were detached from the division. Kampfgruppe Waldmüller was moved close to Falaise and Kampfgruppe Wünsche to Lisieux, 40 kilometres (25 mi) east of Caen. Although Kampfgruppe Waldmüller was later ordered to rejoin the rest of the division at Lisieux, on 17 July Eberbach halted this move.
Shortly after the capture of northern Caen during Operation Charnwood, the British mounted an unsuccessful raid against the Colombelles steelworks complex to the northeast of the city. The factory area remained in German hands, its tall chimneys providing observations posts that overlooked the Orne bridgehead. At 01:00 on 11 July, elements of the 153rd (Highland) Infantry Brigade, supported by Sherman tanks of the Royal Armoured Corps's 148th Regiment, moved against the German position. The intention was to secure the area only long enough for troops from the Royal Engineers to destroy the chimneys before pulling back. However, at 05:00 the British force was ambushed by Tiger tanks and after the loss of nine tanks was forced to withdraw.
While planning and preparation for Goodwood was underway, Second Army launched two preliminary operations. According to Montgomery, their purpose was to "engage the enemy in battle unceasingly; we must 'write off' his troops; and generally we must kill Germans". Historian Terry Copp identifies this as the moment where the Normandy campaign became a battle of attrition; one that Montgomery did his best to ensure the Germans would not win.
Operation Greenline was launched by XII Corps during the evening of 15 July.[nb 20] Greenline's objectives were twofold: to convince the German command that the forthcoming major British assault would be launched west of the Orne though the positions held by XII Corps; and to tie down the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions so that they could not later be relocated to oppose either Goodwood or Operation Cobra. Supported by 450 guns, the British attack made use of "artificial moonlight"[nb 21] and started well despite disruption caused by German artillery fire. By dawn XII Corps had captured several of its objectives including the important height of Hill 113, although the much-contested Hill 112 remained in German hands. Committing the 9th SS Panzer Division, the Germans managed by the end of the day to largely restore their line, although a counter-attack against Hill 113 was unsuccessful. Renewed attacks the following day by XII Corps gained no further ground, so during the evening of 17 July the operation was closed down and the British force on Hill 113 withdrawn.
Operation Pomegranate started on 16 July, one day after Greenline. XXX Corps was to capture several important villages. On the first day British infantry seized a key objective and took 300 prisoners but the next day saw heavy and inconclusive fighting on the outskirts of Noyers-Bocage. Elements of the 9th SS Panzer Division were committed to the village's defence; although the British took control of the railway station and an area of high ground outside the village, Noyers-Bocage itself remained in German hands.
These two operations cost Second Army 3,500 casualties for no significant territorial gains, but Greenline and Pomegranate were strategically successful. Reacting to the developing threats in the Odon Valley, the Germans not only retained the 2nd Panzer and 10th SS Panzer Divisions in the front line but also recalled the 9th SS Panzer Division from Corps reserve. They suffered around 2,000 casualties; the heavy losses on both sides prompted Terry Copp to call the fighting "one of the bloodiest encounters of the campaign".
During the late afternoon of 17 July a patrolling British Spitfire fighter aircraft spotted a German staff car on the road near the village of Sainte-Foy-de-Montgommery. The fighter made a strafing attack driving the car off the road. Among its occupants was Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the commander of Army Group B, who was seriously wounded leaving Army Group B temporarily leaderless.
Shortly before dawn on 18 July, the Highland infantry in the Orne bridgehead's southern sector quietly pulled back just over half a mile (about 1 km) from the front line. At 05:45, 1,056 Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster heavy bombers flying at 3,000 feet (910 m) dropped 4,800 tons of high explosive bombs around Colombelles and the steelworks, on the positions of the 21st Panzer Division, and on the town of Cagny reducing half of it to rubble. At 06:40 the British artillery opened fire and 20 minutes later the second wave of bombers arrived. From 10,000 feet (3,000 m)–13,000 feet (4,000 m), American B-26 Marauders released 563 tons of fragmentation bombs on the 16th Luftwaffe Division. Simultaneously, fighter-bombers attacked German strong points and gun positions. During the 45-minute bombardment the troops and tanks of the 11th Armoured Division moved out of their concentration areas towards the start line. H Hour was set for 07:45, so on schedule the artillery switched to a rolling barrage that would creep ahead of 11th Armoured's advance. As the division moved off, additional artillery regiments opened fire on Cuverville, Demouville, Giberville, Liberville, Cagny and Émiéville, and dropped harassing fire on targets as far south as Garcelles-Secqueville and Secqueville la Campagne. Fifteen minutes later the final bombing raid arrived; American heavy bombers dropped 1,340 tons of fragmentation bombs in the Troarn area and on the main German gun line on the Bourguébus Ridge. Only 25 bombers in the three waves were lost, all to German anti aircraft fire. Aerial support for the operation was then handed over to the 800 Royal Air Force fighter-bombers of No. 83 and No. 84 Groups.
The bombing put both the 22nd Panzer Regiment and the III/503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion temporarily out of action, causing varying degrees of damage to their tanks. Some were overturned, some were destroyed outright, and 20 were later found abandoned in bomb craters. Most of the German front line positions had been neutralised with the survivors left "dazed and incoherent". However, dust and smoke had impaired the ability of the bomber crews to identify all their targets, while others that lay on the periphery of the bombing zones had remained untouched. Although Cagny and Émiéville suffered heavily, their defenders remained largely unscathed and were able to recover in time to meet the British advance—both places having clear lines of fire on the route the British were to take. Formations such as the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion rallied rapidly and got to work digging out their half-buried tanks to be ready for action that same morning. On the Bourguébus Ridge a number of guns were destroyed by the bombing, but most of the artillery pieces and anti-tank guns situated there remained intact.
By 08:05 Operation Goodwood's leading tank regiments—the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry and the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment of the 11th Armoured Division's 29th Armoured Brigade—had successfully navigated minefields to reach the Caen-Troarn railway line. The first phase of the rolling barrage ended at 08:30, by which time large numbers of prisoners from the 16th Luftwaffe Division had been rounded up. Negotiating the railway line, however, proved problematic. By the time the artillery resumed firing at 08:50, only the first armoured regiment and a portion of the second had crossed. Although opposition was still minimal and more prisoners were taken, the two regiments struggled to keep up with the barrage and were moving out of supporting range of their reserves. On schedule at 09:00 the barrage lifted; 35 minutes later the lead squadrons reached the Caen-Vimont railway line. In reserve, the 29th Armoured Brigade's third regiment, the 23rd Hussars, had managed to clear the first railway line only to became embroiled in an hour and a half long engagement with a battery of self-propelled guns of the 200th Assault Gun Battalion that had been misidentified as Tiger tanks.
As the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry's tanks advanced past Cagny they came under anti-tank fire from the east, including from 88 mm anti-aircraft guns in Cagny itself. Within a few minutes at least 12 tanks were disabled. The Yeomanry pressed their advance south and were engaged by the main German gun line on the ridge, while the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, having shifted westward, exchanged fire with the German garrison in Grentheville before moving around the village and advancing along the southern outskirts of Caen towards Bras and Hubert-Folie. What had been conceived as an attack towards the Bourguébus Ridge by three armoured divisions had now became an unsupported advance by two tank regiments, out of sight of one other, against heavy German fire. By 11:15 the British reached the ridge and the villages of Bras and Bourguébus. Some losses were inflicted on the defending German tank force, but attempts to advance further were met by fierce opposition including fire from the rear, from pockets of resistance that had been bypassed.
In response to the British advance General Eberbach ordered a counterattack described by historian Simon Trew as "not a defensive move but a full armoured charge". The 1st SS Panzer Division was to attack across the ridge while in the Cagny area the 21st Panzer Division was to recover all lost ground. German tanks started to arrive on the ridge around noon and the British tank crews were soon reporting German tanks and guns everywhere. Hawker Typhoon ground-attack rocket strikes were directed onto the ridge throughout the afternoon, delaying and eventually breaking up the 1st SS Panzer Division's attack. A final attempt to storm the ridge resulted in the loss of 16 more British tanks, while a minor counterattack during the afternoon was driven off with the destruction of six German Panther tanks.
Just before 10:00 the Guards Armoured Division caught up with the 11th Armoured Division and pressed on towards Cagny. By 12:00 the division's leading elements were halted, engaged in fighting. A German counterattack, launched against the 2nd Armoured Grenadier Guards by 19 tanks from the 21st Panzer Division and the Tiger-equipped 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion, failed when the German tanks came under fire from their own guns and two Tigers were knocked out. Having become separated from its fellows, a King Tiger tank that was attempting to manoeuvre out of danger was caught by an Irish Guards Sherman tank that had also become detached from its unit. Finding themselves behind the German tank the Sherman crew fired into the Tiger and then rammed it; anti-tank fire from other British units then penetrated the Tiger's armour. Both crews abandoned their vehicles and most of the German crew was captured. The 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion later attacked the Coldstream Guards, but was forced to withdraw under concentrated anti-tank fire. It took the Guards the rest of the day to capture Cagny, which was found abandoned when infantry finally entered the village. Attempts to renew the advance were met by fierce German resistance.
Starting last, the only element of the 7th Armoured Division to enter the battle was the 5th Royal Tank Regiment. At 17:00 near Cuverville they knocked out two Panzer IVs for the loss of four of their own tanks before clearing Grentheville—bypassed earlier in the day by the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment—and taking prisoners in the process. This provoked a German counterattack of six tanks, which petered out after two tanks were destroyed on both sides.
The 11th Armoured Division pulled back to the Caen-Vimont railway line for the evening and replacement tanks were brought forward for all divisions, with the 11th Armoured taking priority. Likewise German recovery teams were attempting to recover and repair as many of their tanks as possible, as very few replacements were available. Unnoticed by the British, during the day's fighting a gap had been created between Emièville and Troan. This was plugged during the night by the arrival of the 12th SS Panzer Division, who had lost ten tanks en route due to air attacks. A number of minor German counterattacks were launched from the ridge: one at dusk was broken up by British artillery and anti-tank fire and destroyed a Panther and Tiger; another after dark, led by a captured Sherman, was repulsed after the Sherman and two Panthers were knocked out by a British anti-tank battery. During the night, German bombers dropped flares over the Orne bridges, which then came under aerial attack. One bridge was slightly damaged and the headquarters of the 11th Armoured Division was hit, as were some tank crewmen who had survived the day's fighting.
On the Canadian front, Operation Atlantic began at 08:15 with a rolling barrage. Infantry and tanks crossed their start line twenty minutes later. At 08:40, British infantry from the 159th Infantry Brigade entered Cuverville; the village and its surrounding area were secured by 10:30, but patrols found Demouville firmly held and attempts to capture this second objective were delayed while the infantry reorganised. The rest of the day saw a slow southward advance as numerous German positions were cleared. Linking up with their armoured support by nightfall, the infantry dug in around le Mesnil-Frèmentel. On the flank, the 3rd Infantry Division had a successful day, capturing all of their objectives except Troarn.
In their fighting around Cagny, the Guards Armoured Division lost 15 tanks destroyed and a further 45 damaged. The 11th Armoured Division lost 126 tanks,[nb 22] although only 40 of these were complete write-offs; the rest were damaged or had broken down. Crew losses were not heavy with all three armoured divisions suffering a combined total of 521 casualties during the day.[nb 23]
The German armour counter-attacked late in the afternoon and fighting continued along the high ground and around Hubert-Folie on 19 July and 20 July, bringing the attack to a halt. On 21 July, Dempsey started to secure his gains by substituting infantry for armour.
Tactically, the Germans contained the offensive, holding many of their main positions and preventing an Allied breakthrough. Nonetheless, they had been startled by the weight of the attack and preliminary aerial bombardment. It was clear that any defensive system less than five miles deep could be overwhelmed at a stroke by another such attack, and the Germans could afford to man their defenses in such depth only in the sector south of Caen. Goodwood resulted in the British extending their control over an extra seven miles of territory to the east of Caen, with the penetration being as much as 12,000 yards in some places and the rest of Caen had been captured.
Probably the biggest post-Goodwood claim of success was that the attack reinforced the German view that the British and Canadian forces on the Allied eastern flank were the most dangerous enemy. This resulted in the Axis committing their reserves to the eastern half of the battle, so the United States forces only faced one and a half Panzer divisions compared with the six and a half now facing the British and Canadian armies. Once Operation Cobra breached the thin German defensive 'crust' in the west, few German mechanized units were available to counterattack. The American official campaign historian wrote post war that had Goodwood succeeded in creating a breakthrough, "...COBRA would probably have been unnecessary."
Historian Simon Trew comments that "no conclusive assessment can ever be made" in regards to the losses of both sides. During Operation Goodwood, over 2,000 German prisoners were taken and Trew states the evidence suggests up to 100 tanks were lost. VIII Corps' historian, G.S. Jackson, also supports this position, claiming up towards 100 German tanks were destroyed during the course of the operation. The British official campaign history claims the 1st SS and 21st Panzer Divisions lost 109 tanks on the first day of the battle, a claim Reynolds calls an "exaggeration". Reynolds provides a figure of 77 tanks or assault guns knocked out or damaged during the operation, but states that the figure of 75 tanks or assault guns destroyed - as stated in a post-war interview, by the commanding officer of the 11th Armoured Division during Goodwood, for a British staff college training film on the operation - "can be accepted as accurate". Tamelander claims that Panzer Group West only records the loss of 75 tanks during the period of 16–21 July.
Trew states that "the first estimates of Allied losses for Operation Goodwood appeared horrific, that Second Army had lost 4,011 men... ." VIII Corps post war history places the losses incurred by the armoured divisions, for 18 and 19 July only, as 1,020 men. Quoting the 21st Army Group war dairy, Reynolds states the casualties incurred by I and VIII Corps, during the operation, amounted to a total of 3,474 men. Operation Atlantic cost the Canadians between 1,349 and 1,965 casualties[nb 24]
The British tank losses during Goodwood have been a matter of much debate, with tank losses being reported between 300–500. In addition to VIII Corps losses, around 20 more tanks were lost in the flanking support operations. Reynold claims that a careful study of the relevant documents indicates the maximum number of tanks lost during Operation Goodwood was 253 tanks, most of which were repairable. Tamelander and Zetterling state that during Goodwood a total of 469 tanks were lost by the three armoured divisions (including 131 tanks on the 19th, and a further 68 on the 20th) but highlights that the majority could be repaired. Simon Trew dismisses these figures and states that after much investigation VIII Corps losses amount to 197 tanks on 18 July, 99 of 19 July, and 18 on 20 July "for a total of 314, of which 130 were completely destroyed". Furthermore, he comments that "the tank strength returns for VIII Corps 18–21 July show a loss of 218 tanks (that could not be repaired or immediately replaced), including 145 tanks from 11th Armoured Division".
Objective of the operation
Goodwood was launched at a time of high frustration in the higher command of the Allies, and this contributed to the controversy surrounding the operation. The Allied bridgehead in Normandy was not expanding at the pace they wanted; the lodgement was about 20% of the planned size, which led to congestion, and there was some fear of a stalemate. Allied commanders were not able to exploit their potentially decisive advantages in mobility during June and early July 1944. They were looking for a decisive breakthrough of the German defensive front.
Much of the controversy surrounding the objectives of the battle originates from the conflicting messages given by Montgomery. He talked up the objectives of Goodwood to the press on the first day, later saying that this was deliberate to encourage the Germans to commit their forces away from the western part of the battlefield. Montgomery was notoriously vain, and did not feel he had a responsibility to talk to superiors who were not on the battlefield. Therefore, in the planning stage of Goodwood, he seemed to promise that the attack would be the breakthrough the Allies were looking for, so that when the British VIII Corps failed to achieve a penetration, by some accounts U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower felt he had been misled. While his irregular communications to his commanders appeared to promise a breakthrough, Montgomery was writing orders to his subordinates that played down the chances of a breakthrough. For example, copies of orders forwarded to Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) called for an armoured division to take Falaise, a town far in the German rear. Three days prior to the attack Montgomery revised these orders, eliminating Falaise as an objective but neglecting to send copies of the revision up to SHAEF. This left Eisenhower in the dark about the more conservative revised orders and later furious at the result. This was to haunt Montgomery afterwards, as it allowed his many enemies (especially Air Marshal Tedder) to imply that the operation was a failure.
- Hart states that Goodwood "still constituted strategic success despite being [an] immediate tactical failure". Dempsey is quoted stating the battle was not tactically very good but strategically was a "great success". Dempsey also notes that Montgomery would agree with him since the operation captured "strategically important new ground" and had "firmly tied down four Corps of panzers and infantry during the moment when Bradley was about to launch Cobra". Wilmot also notes the strategic success of the operation.
- Ellis states the 3 armoured divisions of VIII Corps had a total strength of 750 tanks and a further 350 tanks were supporting the flanking Corps.
- Trew states that around 1,300 tanks would take part during the attack, including 759 medium tanks within VIII Corps and 275 with the flanking Corps.
- "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". 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." However Miles Dempsey always considered the possibility that the immediate seizure of Caen might fail.
- In 'Fields of Fire' by Terry Copp; Copp suggests that it was, in fact, Brigadier Charles Richardson, chief planning officer of 21st Army Group, who provided the starting point and inspiration for Operation Goodwood.
- This figure does not include the 79th Armoured Division (which according to Buckley never operated as a formation) the Guards Armoured Division, the 7th Armoured Division and the 11th Armoured Division.
- These were the 4th, 8th, 27th and 33rd Armoured Brigades, the 31st and 34th Tank Brigades, and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. The 6th Guards Tank Brigade landed after the conclusion of the Atlantic/Goodwood battles and is not included in the figure given. Clark also notes that no medium tanks were issued to the tank brigades; they were instead equipped with Churchill infantry tanks and a small number of light tanks.
- Lieutenant-General Crocker of I Corps, Lieutenant-General Simmons of II Canadian Corps and Lieutenant-General O'Connor of VIII Corps.
- There is some disagreement whether Montgomery or Dempsey cancelled the operation. Montgomery states he cancelled the operation after receiving negative feedback on the plan from O'Connor and decided to launch an attack west of Caen, which would later become Operation Epsom; while Dempsey, after the war told Chester Wilmot that he informed Montgomery that he was going to cancel the proposed operation on 18 June.
- 1st SS Panzer Division actually had 46 Panthers and 61 Panzer IV's.
- Both battalions were erroneously placed with I SS Panzer Corps, but one had in fact been attached to the 21st Panzer Division.
- Rommel stated that German defences east of the Orne included 194 field guns and 90 anti tank guns.
- 456 field pieces from 19 field regiments, 208 medium pieces from 13 medium regiments, 48 heavy pieces from 3 heavy regiments and 48 heavy anti-aircraft guns from 2 heavy anti-aircraft regiments. The artillery was provided by I, VIII, XII Corps and II Canadian Corps as well as the 2nd Canadian Army Group Royal Artillery and the 4th Army Group Royal Artillery.
- Each field piece was allocated 500 rounds, each medium piece 300 rounds and each heavy piece 150 rounds.
- The monitor HMS Roberts armed with two 15-inch guns and the light cruisers HMS Mauritius and HMS Enterprise armed with seven and twelve 6-inch guns respectively.
- 1,056 heavy bombers of RAF Bomber Command, 539 heavy bombers of the USAAF Eighth Air Force and 482 medium bombers of the USAAF Ninth Air Force.
- These were the first of 1,500 bailey bridges to be built by the British army during the campaign in northwest Europe.
- Following Operation Goodwood it took Royal Engineers five days, during daylight hours, to lift all the mines placed in front of the positions previously held by 51st (Highland) Infantry Division.
- Trew claims that there were only around 36 anti-tank guns in the rear positions, including no more than 8–16 pieces on the ridge itself.
- 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; and the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division (minus one brigade).
- "Artificial moonlight" or "Monty's moonlight" was the term given to the technique of providing illumination at night by reflecting searchlight beams off the cloud layer.
- While consensus supports 126 tanks lost out of the 219-244 tanks that crossed the start line, several historians have presented slightly different figures. The divisional commander, the VIII Corps historian, and Chester Wilmot all support the loss of 126 tanks. Michael Reynolds presents a slightly lower figure of "...at least 125" and Christopher Dunphie a slightly higher figure at 128
- Guards Armoured Division: 127 casualties. 7th Armoured Division: 48 casualties. 11th Armoured Division: 336 casualties.
- Stacey, the official campaign historian, quoting Casualty figures from War Service Records places the "total casualties of all the Canadian units in the theatre of operations, for the four days' fighting, were 1965 in all categories; 441 men were killed or died of wounds.
- Hart p. 89
- D'este, p. 387
- Wilmot, pp. 362–365
- Trew, pp. 54–55
- Ellis p. 336
- Trew, p. 52
- Trew, pp. 60–61
- Reynolds, p. 172
- Reynolds, p. 186
- Trew, p. 98
- Trew, p. 96
- Jackson, p. 113
- Reynolds, p. 187
- Trew, p. 97
- Williams, p. 24
- Ellis, p. 171
- Wilmot, p. 273
- Buckley, p. 23
- Ellis, p. 78
- Ellis, p. 81
- Van-Der-Vat, p. 146
- Wilmot, pp. 284–286
- Ellis, p. 247
- Forty, p. 36
- Ellis, p. 250
- Ellis, p. 254
- Taylor, p. 10
- Taylor, p. 76
- Forty, p. 97
- Ellis, p. 255
- Williams, p. 114
- Wilmot, p. 322
- Clark, pp. 31–32
- Clark, p. 21
- Hart, p. 108
- Reynolds (2002), p. 13
- Wilmot, p. 334
- Williams, p. 131
- Jackson, p. 60
- Bercuson, p. 222
- Trew, p. 53
- Trew, p. 49
- Wilmot, p. 351
- Williams, p. 175
- Hart, p. 64
- Copp, p. 134
- Hart, pp. 64–65
- Hart, p. 65
- Van-Der-Vat, p. 158
- Dunphie, p. 30
- Buckley, p. 13
- Trew, p. 55
- Fortin, pp. 44, 52, 58, 64, 69, 74
- Buckley, p. 19
- Fortin, p. 47
- Clark, p. 36
- Fortin, p. 47, 64, 74, 100
- Jackson, p. 70
- Ellis, p. 330
- Trew, p. 64
- Jackson, p. 72
- Wilmot, p. 353
- Hart, pp. 131–132
- Trew, pp. 64–65
- Stacey, p. 169
- Hastings, p. 293
- Williams, p. 161
- Jackson, p. 79
- Trew, p. 66
- Reynolds (2002), p. 44
- Ellis, p. 331
- Ellis, pp. 330–331
- Trew, p. 70
- Buckley, p. 35
- Dunphie, p. 42
- Ellis, p. 352
- Stacey, pp. 170–171
- Dunphie, p. 43
- Trew, p. 58
- Trew, p. 53–56
- Ellis, p. 336
- Daglish, p. 37
- Daglish, p. 38
- D'Este, p. 360
- Jackson, p. 86
- Trew, pp. 68–69
- Jackson, pp. 85–86
- Ellis, p. 339
- Jackson, p. 89
- Dunphie, p. 35
- Reynolds (2001), p. 171
- Trew, p. 65
- Daglish, pp. 26–29
- Jackson, p. 87
- Daglish, p. 29
- Daglish, p. 26
- Jackson, p. 88
- Trew, p. 68
- Jackson, p. 91
- Jackson, pp. 91–92
- Daglish, p. 36
- Reynolds (2001), p. 172
- Jackson, p. 77
- Jackson, p. 76
- Jackson, p. 92
- Trew, p. 59
- Dunphie, p. 45
- Reynolds (2001), pp. 170–171
- Trew, p. 62
- Trew, pp. 63–64
- Trew, p. 57
- Reynolds (2001), pp. 166, 171
- Daglish, p. 35
- Copp, p. 135
- Reynolds (2002), p. 46
- Reynolds (2002), p. 47
- Reynolds (2002), pp. 46–48
- Reynolds (2002), pp. 49–50
- Ellis, p. 334
- Randel, p. 17
- Reynolds (2002), p. 50
- Wilmot, pp. 357–358
- Jackson, p. 93
- Trew, p. 71
- Dunphie, p. 56
- Trew, pp. 71–72
- Trew, p. 72
- Reynolds (2001), p. 174
- Trew, p. 73
- Jackson, p. 94
- Saunders, p. 63
- Saunders, pp. 61, 64
- Saunders, p. 65
- Williams, p. 167
- Reynolds (2001), p. 175
- Williams, p. 165
- Dunphie, p. 62
- Trew, p. 77
- Jackson, p. 95
- Dunphie, p. 74
- Trew, p. 80
- Trew, p. 82
- Fortin, p. 17
- Trew, pp. 80-82
- Reynolds, p. 179
- Fortin, pp. 17-18
- Dunphie, pp.120-121
- Reynolds, p. 177
- Daglish, pp. 177-178
- Trew, p. 83
- Dunphie, pp. 123-126
- Fortin, p. 8
- Lindsay, p. 48
- Beevor, p. 319
- Beevor, p. 320
- Dunphie, p. 144
- Trew, p. 89
- Trew, p. 76
- Jackson, pp. 94–95
- Dunphie, p. 142
- Reynolds, p. 178
- Trew, p. 86
- Jackson, p. 102
- Wilmot, p. 360
- Dunphie , p. 144
- Jackson, p. 103
- Wilmot, p. 264
- Trew, p. 94
- Williams, p. 185
- Blumenson, p. 188
- Trew, p. 96–97
- Ellis, p. 346
- Tamelander, p. 289
- Jackson, pp. 103, 108
- Copp, Fifth Brigade at Verrières Ridge, P. 5
- Zuehlke, p. 166
- Stacey, p. 176
- Tamelander, Zetterling, p. 288
- Blumenson, p. 4-6, 119
- Blumenson, p. 4, 186
- Williams, p. 174
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Operation Goodwood.|
- Morss, Robert. "59th (Staffordshire) Division in WWII: Operation Pomegranate". http://59div.morssweb.com/?bnoyers.
- An RAF aerial reconnaissance photograph of a bombed area around Sannerville and Banneville la Campagne after the RAF daylight raid on the morning of 18 July 1944 in support of Goodwood
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