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Five Days with Canadian Armour

D-Day: British Five Days with Canadian Armour
(7-11 June 1944)

By Ken Camel

In the first five days after D-Day, the 3rd Canadian Division supported by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade sparred with the 12. SS-Panzerdivision on a daily basis. Both divisions were facing combat for the first time and both were badly bloodied by their inexperience and determination.  
D-Day: Waffen-SS

Just prior to the Normandy landings, the 3rd Canadian Army Tank Brigade had been selected, after a rigorous inspection, to become the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade over the 2nd Army Tank Brigade. If this bit of organizational restructuring did not confuse the Germans it certainly confused the Allies. The 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade (CAB) consisted of 3 tank regiments, the 6th Armoured Regiment (the 1st Hussars), the 10th Armoured Regiment (the Fort Garry Horse), and the 27th Armoured Regiment (the Sherbrooke Fusiliers).

The 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade (CAB) landed at Courseulles-sur-Mer and Bernieres-sur-Mer on D-Day. The 1st Hussars landed at Courseulles-sur-Mer and the Fort Garry Horse and Sherbrooke Fusilliers at Bernières-sur-Mer. The brigade’s primary mission was infantry support. They were assigned to infantry units to support particular landing operations. This mission continued through the first few days of operations in Normandy.

Canadian achievements on D-Day were remarkable. By the end of the day the 3rd Canadian Division was well established on its first set of objectives.  

SS-Panzergrenadiers
They had progressed further inland than any of the other Allies. Although short of the planned final D-day objectives the Canadians had broken through the 'Atlantic Wall' and smashed the first line of German defences.

However, one particular objective they failed to achieve on day one was the airfield of Carpiquet. They got within sight of the airfield, but were unable to secure it, an event they would pay for dearly in the future.
12. SS Panzer IV H

While the 1st Hussars and Fort Gary Horse regrouped and refitted, the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, the 2nd CAB reserve regiment, moved out towards the Carpiquet airfield on the 7 June with the 9th Infantry Brigade, the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.

The 9th Infantry led the march towards Carpiquet. They captured the village of Buron from elements of the German 716. Infanteriedivision supported by the Sherbrooke Fusiliers. “D” Company of the Highlanders began to dig in at Buron while the remainder of the spearhead continued on towards the town of Authie and the airfield.  

Around 1400 hours, the Canadian spearhead ran into three companies of Panzergrenadiers and two panzer companies from the Panzergrenadier-Regiment 25 of the 12. SS-Panzerdivision. 

The initial engagement favoured the Sherbrooke Fusiliers who knocked out three of five Panzer IV tanks. But when the main German force arrived the advance was halted. The fighting escalated as both German and Canadian artillery joined in the fight. The Germans reported the loss of five more Panzer IV tanks while Canadian tank losses were ten Shermans.

The Germans then counterattacked and pushed the Canadians back to Buron. The trenches of the dug-in “D” company were being overrun before the anti-tank fire of the Canadians finally stopped the advance and the Germans withdrew towards Authie. As nightfall began, the Canadians felt they could not hold Buron through the night and also withdrew.

Around 0300 hours on the 8 June, SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 26 of the 12. SS began an attack on Canadian positions to the west of Authie and Buron at Norey and Putot. The I Battalion of SS-Panzergrenadier- Regiment 26 attacked Norey, but was stopped at the rail line south of the town by Canadian rifle and artillery fire. The II Battalion faired better, attacking the Winnipeg Rifles who had set up positions south of the Putot rail line. The II Battalion secured the rail line, but by mid-afternoon had been halted just outside of Putot by a flank attack from British 24th Lancers supported by artillery.

That evening the Canadians counterattacked with a battalion from the Canadian Scottish Regiment and a company of the 1st Hussars. They pushed the German II Battalion, SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 26 back south of the rail line. The Germans continued to fall back and set up a defensive position about 200-300 meters south of the rail line. Casualties on both sides were substantial and the Winnipeg Rifles were pulled from the line and put into reserve. 

Canadian Mortar crew
At about the same time, the 1st and 4th companies of the I. Panzerabteilung accompanied by a motorcycle company of SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 25, and a battery of the I. Artillerieabteilung attempted to recapture Bretteville that was presently held by the Regina Rifles and supported by 6pdrs of the 3rd Canadian Anti-tank Regiment.
SS Prisoners

The 12. SS took it on the chin once more although losses on both sides were substantial. All told, the Canadians claimed about 12 Panthers destroyed by anti-tank guns and PIATs, while the Germans claimed they lost six. Still the 12. SS failed to take the town and the Canadian defence held through the night of 8-9 June.

At around 0900 hours on the morning of 9 June, the 3rd Company of SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 rumbled through Rots towards la Villeneuve on the Caen-Bayeux highway. They were ordered to assault Norrey with the support of a small number of infantry from SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 25.

The attack was to be in conjunction with infantry attack from the I Battalion of SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 26 south of the village. 

Just after noon on 9 June, Twelve Panthers fanned out in a single line at a right angle to the rail embankment. Approaching the village the company swung left keeping in a solid line with their fronts towards the village in anticipation of confronting the Canadian anti-tank guns.  

However, nine Sherman tanks from the 1st Hussars including several "Fireflys" equipped with 17 pdrs, were moving towards the front to reinforce the Reginas' position in Norrey. The majority of the Sherman tanks were navigating through the village, but one Firefly, commanded by Lt G. K. Henry, had worked his way around the village to the front where he spotted the advancing Panthers. Catastrophically for the 3rd Panzerkompanie, their swing to the left, though protecting them from the 6-pounders in Norrey, exposed their flanks to Lt Henry at not more than 1000 metres distance. The Canadian tank opened fire hitting the tank nearest the rail-line first. Incredibly Lt Henry fired five shots and knocked out five Panthers. A sixth was accounted for by another “C” squadron tank.

The crews from the burning Panthers along with their supporting infantry retreated back to an underpass where Canadian artillery began to pound the area inflicting even more casualties.

2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade Sherman

The attack of the I Battalion, SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 25 never materialized leaving the assault a complete failure.

The following day, 10 June, the 12. SS-Pionier battalion tried an assault on Norrey but the combined arms of Canadian Regina Rifles, artillery, machine guns, and tanks decimated two of the pioneer companies. It fell back and dug in. Meanwhile the Canadian armoured brigade was mustering for an offensive on 12 June. Orders changed however for the brigade was hurried to advance at the same time as British advances on the flanks. The assault was now scheduled for 11 June. But this time the 12. SS was ready. 

Canadian 17pdr At Norrey, the Allied plan called for two squadrons of the 1st Hussars and The Queen’s Own Rifles to move through Norrey and attack south towards le Mesnil-Patry.

The 12. SS-Pionier battalion had dug-in in a wheat field and was instructed to let the tanks roll past and attack the infantry. However, the Canadian infantry was riding the tanks of the 1st Hussars and hand to hand fighting began almost immediately as the infantry dismounted the tanks in the midst of the German pioneers.

The Pioneers also began to assault the tanks with anti-tank rifles, Panzerfausts and magnetic mines; the Canadians had entered a hornet’s nest.

Although taking heavy losses the Sherman tanks of “B” Squadron,” continued towards their objective. “C” Squadron saw their predicament and tried to help by flanking the battle. However, the 8. Panzerkompanie of SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 had heard the fighting from their position approximately one kilometre south. The German Panzers rolled forward and caught the Shermans in the open. Another four or five Shermans were destroyed. The Panzers of 8. Panzerkompanie of SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 continued through the wheat field only stopping to fight a duel with Canadian anti-tank guns at the far edge of the field.

Another company of Panzers, 1. Panzerkompanie, arrived and began a counterattack. Nearly two squadrons of the 1st Hussars and a company of the Queen’s Own Rifles were destroyed. Thirty-seven Sherman tanks were destroyed and the company of rifles sustained 90 casualties with 55 dead.

At about the same time as the attack on le Mesnil-Patry, the 46th Royal Marine Commando, reinforced with a company of Sherman tanks from the Fort Garry Horse, attempted to take Rots from the 1. Kompanie of SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 26. Two anti-tank guns, a pioneer company and a panzer company supported the Panzergrenadiers. They had been dug in since the 9 June.
The aftermath at Bretteville

The battle was horrific. The initial attack, preceded by an artillery barrage, had the Royal Marines and Sherman tanks penetrate the northern part of Rot, which forced the 1. Kompanie back. A German counterattack by two squads of infantry and two panthers knocked out six Shermans and took 40 prisoners clearing the edge of town from east to west.

The Royal Marines and eight more Sherman tanks renewed the attack, causing the remaining Germans to waver. 

Royal Marine Commandos

The fighting continued throughout the night before the Germans finally retreated from the town in the early morning. Losses on both sides were substantial. A French villager reported, “The whole battle for Rots took place between the church and the schoolhouses. They fought with cold steel, with Panzerfaust, shot each other in the cellars. A German Panzer went up in flames in the church square, as did a Canadian tank. The number of dead on both sides surpassed one hundred.” 

Thus ended the initial battles between the Canadian 3rd Division and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, and the 12. SS-Panzerdivision. All told the Canadian armoured brigade had suffered over 50 lost tanks, while the 12..SS had lost over 30 in the first five days of fighting.

The fighting had been fierce and the losses great on both sides. Whenever one side or the other assaulted the defenders usually won the day. The only exception being the Royal Marine Commando and the Fort Garry Horse securing Rots on the last day. But even there, a high price was paid.

The Canadian armoured experience on the beaches of Normandy gave prelude to the bloody fighting ahead in Caen. Every kilometre gained took a high price in men and material. The defence would be the order of the day and any offensive manoeuvres would be extremely costly.  

To fielding the 12. SS-Panzerdivision in Flames Of War see D-Day: Waffen-SS.

To field the 3rd Canadian Division or the Royal Marine Commandos in Flames Of War see D-Day: British.

Little Fish Scenario (Villons-les-Buissons, 7 June)... 


Last Updated On Thursday, July 9, 2020 by Wayne at Battlefront