During the D-Day landings, two of the biggest tank battles in the Second World War took place in Caen-la-Mer: Operation Goodwood and Operation Totalize. For General Eiseinhower, “This was one of the greatest bloodbaths of the war”. Revisit the sites of the battles in the villages of Bourguébus, Grentheville, Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil and Tilly-la-Campagne.
Operation Goodwood, the most deadly tank battle of the war in Normandy
After Operation Charnwood, which led to the liberation of the south of Caen, the north of the city was still occupied by the Germans. Operation Goodwood was then launched by General Montgomery, with the aim of capturing the east of Caen with the help of 1350 tanks. This mission meant the Germans were drawn to the east of the city, enabling the Americans to launch Operation Cobra.
From early on the morning of 18 July 1944, the Royal Air Force began bombing the Caen plain. But the allied tanks were easily pushed back by the German soldiers towards Bourguébus. The village lies on high ground and was a strategic point for the German artillery, who called it “the Bourguébus Ridge”.
After two days of bloody fighting, Operation Goodwood failed, due to poor conditions on the ground, and the Germans had only lost 100 tanks.
The British had lost 400 tanks and over 5,500 men.
Operation Goodwood enabled the Americans to launch Operation Cobra and to liberate Brittany.
Today, the villages in the southern plain of Caen have been completely rebuilt. If you walk through the village of Bourguébus, you will come across the vestiges of the old Saint-Vigor Church, which was partially destroyed during the Battle of Normandy. Opposite the Town Hall, you can see the Memorial Stone commemorating the 20 July 1944 and the Allies who liberated Bourguébus. There is another memorial stone celebrating the liberators in front of Grentheville Town Hall.
Operation Totalize: when the Allies attacked at night!
After the failure of Operation Goodwood, the Canadians, British and Polish launched Operation Totalize. Again with the aim of liberating the south of Caen, General Simonds, at the head of the II Canadian Corps introduced a new tactic. He decided to attack at night and to use mechanised infantry to support the armoured vehicles.
On 7 August 1944, the Canadians clashed with the German forces west of the Caen-Falaise road, while the Polish forces to the east were surrounded by the German anti-tank guns.
The next day, at Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil, Michael Wittmann, the most formidable Nazi tank commander in the Second World War, died in his Tiger 007 tank. “The Panzer Ace” was killed by Private Ekins, a, artilleryman who was just 21 years old…
During the last phase of the operation, the Allied tanks took the wrong trajectory and the mission failed. But Totalize succeeded in drawing the Germans towards Falaise, which put an end to Operation Lüttich near the region of Mortain. Operation Totalize, like Operation Goodman, led to great bloodshed. The Allies lost 1256 men and 145 tanks.
Tilly-La-Campagne was the village that was worst hit after the D-Day landings on Sword Beach. When you return to the site of the battle, at Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil, which was liberated on 8 August 1944, you will see “the Northamptonshire Yeomanry Plaque“, paying homage to the town’s liberators.