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D-Day: British

Operation Goodwood

By Stuart Carlaw

18 July 1944 witnessed the beginning of the biggest battle to involve British armour either up to that point or since. Six weeks after D-Day, Montgomery realized that the British army had reached its peak. At that point in 1944, the British enjoyed parity with their American Allies but from that day onwards, British numbers would only dwindle whilst American numbers would grow. Montgomery was concerned that the cupboard was bare in terms of replacements for his hard fighting infantry regiments but was still very conscious that he needed to keep the various German armoured divisions tied down in the east to facilitate a breakout in the west.

One thing that the British had plenty of was tanks. By mid July, the British had already built a stockpile of 500 tanks in the small bridgehead. When this is coupled with the notion that the ground east of Caen represented good country it was obvious that an armoured thrust in the direction of Bourguebus would be the most sensible option.

On 15 July the order was given to “engage the German armour in battle and write it down to such an extent that it is no further value to the Germans as a basis for battle”.

The Plan

The general idea of the operation was to let loose VIII corps from the Orne bridgehead and establish armoured divisions in the areas Vimont, Garcelles – Secqueville and Hubert-Folie – Verrieres. The armoured divisions involved in the operation included 11th Armoured, Guards Armoured and the 7th Armoured. 

Operation Goodwood

11th Armoured was given the honour of leading the attack and was tasked with advancing south of Cagny before swinging southwest and taking the vital Bourguebus ridge villages of Bourguebus, Hubert-Folie and Bras. The second division into the fray would be the Guards and they were tasked with taking Cagny before turning southeast towards Vimont. 

The 7th Armoured was then expected to move between the Guards and 11th Armoured divisions before taking the villages of La Hogue and Secqueville. It was widely believed by military intelligence that once the three armoured divisions had taken their Bourguebus ridge target villages they would have then been through the worst of the German defences and would be able to advance in line in good tank country.

Countryside around Caen today The Ground and Defences

Anybody with military experience will tell that any plan does not survive first contact with the enemy. In the case of Operation Goodwood, it was severely challenged before it even started due to poor ground appreciation and equally poor intelligence. The intelligence community thought that the area east of Caen represented good tank country but a cursory view of the landscape would tell a different story.
The area is dominated by the shallow Bourguebus ridge making all movement observable. 
The area was also dotted with various small hamlets that provided exceptional opportunities to furnish defenders with readymade strong points to act as breakwaters for any advance. Finally the area was bisected by two raised railway lines that were very heavy going for armoured vehicles, not to mention dangerous due to the need to expose their soft underbelly when cresting the embankments. Countryside around Caen today
More alarming in terms of its impact upon the operation was poor intelligence. Allied intelligence thought that the sector east of the Orne bridgehead was held by forces aligned in two lines. The first line was rightly identified as being occupied by the 16th Luftwaffe Field Division, basically employed as an anti-recce screen. The Allies thought that the second echelon was occupied by 21. Panzerdivision that was acting as a mobile reserve. Unfortunately this was incorrect. 21. Panzerdivision was held responsible for the overall defence of the area and rather than operating as a mobile element and was operating as a second defence line. It was separated into two kampfgruppe. One situated on the left made from two battalions of the 192. Panzergrenadier Regiment. The other was commanded by Colonel Von Luck on the right and constituted the 200. StuG Abteilung, 22. Panzer Regiment and two battalions of the 156. Panzergrenadiers Regiment.
British Armour moves up to the front It was not identified that half of 22. Panzer Regiment was away being refitted to Panthers and it had been reinforced by the 503. Schwere Panzerabteilung, which had one company of King Tigers and two companies of Tiger Is. Also missed were the 44 8.8cm PaK43 guns of 200. Panzerjägerabteilung, 270 Nebelwerfer rocket launchers of the Werfer regiment 7 and also the many 8.8cm anti-aircraft guns located in the area by the Luftwaffe. Probably the most glaring emission in the intelligence was the location of a third line of defence that occupied the area of the Bourguebus ridge and was held by the 1. and 12. SS-Panzerdivisions which were thought to have been removed from the area for refitting.

Day 1 – 18th July 1944

The operation was preceded by two frightful night moves that saw three full armoured divisions attempt to cross the Orne and then cram into the small bridgehead that was already occupied by the 6th Airborne and 51st Highland Divisions. The operation commenced with a huge Allied air raid and at 6.10 the armour of 11th Armoured led by the 3rd Royal Tanks moved through the gaps in the minefield that had been sewn by the 51st Division whilst it was defending the Orne bridgehead.

At H-Hour, 7:45 AM, a rolling barrage fired by 8 artillery regiments began along a 2000-yard front. Behind this barrage 159th Infantry Brigade, with aid from the tanks of the 2nd Northants Yeomanry, set off to clear Cuverville and Demouville. The early going was easy and the German defenders were dazed by the sheer ferocity of the air raid and the rolling artillery barrage, however a well-timed artillery barrage from the Germans halted the advance temporarily.

Advancing British infantry take cover
Crossing the Orne

By 2.30pm both Cuverville and Demouville had been taken with the loss of the best part of the 716th Grenadier Division, the leading companies of Kampfgruppe Von Luck and also a battery of Becker’s 200. StuG Abteilung.  

At the same time as the 159th were taking Cuverville and Demouville, 11th Armoured were racing towards their objectives. They quickly managed to get across the first railway line that ran from Caen to Traorn and advanced behind the artillery barrage all the way to Le Mesnil-Frementel. The resistance stiffened at Le Mesnil-Frementel and 8th Rifles were called forward to clear the village. The 23rd Hussars were already dealing with resistance in Le Prieure and it was decided that the other two regiments of 11th Armoured would bypass Le Mesnil-Frementel and push on, 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry to the east and 3rd Royal tanks to the west. At this point Operation Goodwood began to unravel.

Just as the operation kicked off, Major Hans Von Luck returned from some R&R in Paris and got into a Panzer IV and drove toward Cagny with the intention of trying to get to 192. Panzergrenadiers in Le Mesnil-Frementel.   

When entering Cagny Von Luck found a battery of Luftwaffe 88’s pointing skywards while Allied tanks passed to the West of the village between Cagny and Le Mesnil-Frementel. Although the Luftwaffe battery commander originally refused to engage the tanks; having remarked that his job was to look for planes, Von Luck persuaded the commander to start taking on the tanks in a very unique way. Von Luck informed the commander, at the point of his service pistol, that he could either earn a decoration or be killed! Unfortunately for the Allies the Luftwaffe battery commander decided to obey Von Luck’s orders and, within a matter of minutes, 12 tanks of C squadron 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry were brewed up. Luckily A and B Squadrons had passed through whilst Von Luck and the Luftwaffe commander were having their “discussion”. Cagny and Le Mesnil-Frementel would remain troublesome for the Allies for a number of hours thanks to stout defence from a battery of 200. StuG Abteilung and the 192. Panzergrenadiers.

Von Luck (Centre)

Major Hans von Luck (center) talks to
Lt Gerhardt Bandomir (left), commander 3. Kompanie of I./125 Panzergrenadier Regt.
Right is Major Willi Kurz, CO of II Battalion. 

Only a concerted action from 29th Armoured Brigades flail tanks and 8th Rifles took Le Mesnil-Frementel, which wasn’t secure until 14:30pm that day. Cagny remained a harder nut to crack. It wasn’t taken until 19:30 that night by the Grenadier Guards of the Guards Armoured Division after the German defenders had withdrawn.
Tanks pass a bombed out church

After bypassing Cagny and Le Mesnil-Frementel, 3rd Royal Tanks and what was left of the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry pushed on towards the Bourguebus ridge villages. After loosing five tanks to fire coming from Grentheville, 3rd Royal Tanks passed through a road culvert of the second railway line at about 10:00 and set line abreast facing the villages of Hubert-Folie and Bras. C Squadron occupied the left and hugged the railway line, B Squadron had the middle aiming for Hubert-Folie, whilst C Squadron had the right of the line aiming for Bras, all-told this was a frontage of about 1 mile. To their front was a gentle sloping incline with no cover all the way to the objective villages. 

Undaunted by the lack of cover, the regiment moved forward. Suddenly the air exploded as armour piercing shot let loose from the villages and the leading elements of the attack were decimated. After a period of time all movement ceased due to fear of attracting fire, some of which was coming from as far away as Bourguebus, some 2500 yards distant.

Colonel Silvertop, commander of 3rd Royal Tanks, had to find a way onto the ridge. He was struck with the idea that not all the villages might have been held strongly and needed a recce mission to find any weaknesses that he could exploit in order to relieve the hell that had fallen on his regiment. 

Believing this was not a job for tanks, he called forward Lieutenant Stileman of G Company 8th Rifles and ordered him to take a carrier patrol and enter Hubert-Folie from the east, pass through the main road and return directly due North to the 3rd Tanks lines. In one of the most hair raising actions of the operation, Stileman sped up the railway embankment next to the village, careered into the village, right through the main street out of the end of the village and back to the lines without drawing a single shot. He duly reported that the village was empty. Accordingly, Silvertop gave the order to advance on the village, but incredibly they were met by withering fire from PaK43’s of 200. Panzerjägerabteilung, 155. Panzer Artillery and elements of 192. Panzergrenadier Regiment. It seems that Stileman passed through the position so quickly it surprised every defender and no one had time to fire on him! 

By 3:30pm that afternoon it became clear that the situation was getting serious, all of Silvertop's squadrons were severely depleted and movement was impossible due to accurate fire from anti-tank guns camouflaged in the villages and on the ridge. Things were none better on the eastern side of the railway embankment where 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry were. 21. Panzerdivision 10.5cm StuG of Becker's battalion

Originally their plan was for C squadron to pass through A and B Squadrons and advance between Four and Soliers towards Bourguebus. Now that C squadron was no more due to the 8.8cm fire from Cagny, Alec Scott the, CO of 2nd Fife and Forfar, had to change his plan. Scott gave the lead to B Squadron with the same axis of attack and objectives.

B Squadron advanced under heavy fire from the pioneer battalion of 21. Panzerdivision and a variety of anti-tank guns and tanks from the same division in Four and Soliers. Somehow by 11:15 the leading troop had managed to bypass the villages and get to the Bourguebus to La Hogue road. Unfortunately the rest of B Squadron had suffered heavy losses of around 12 tanks. A Squadron then took over the lead with equally disastrous effect. By 12:30 it was clear that 2nd Fife and Forfar was spent; down to only 20 tanks. 23rd Hussars were brought forward with the notion of concentrating an attack on Soliers and then using that as a jumping off point for an attack on Bourguebus. 

British forces wait to attack

Without any finesse 23rd Hussars launched its attack with B Squadron in the lead on the same axis of attack that 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry had taken. Not surprisingly this met with little success. At this point the CO of 3rd Royal Tanks met up with CO of 23rd Hussars informing him that he only had 5 effective tanks left. It was decided to pull B Squadron back to the railway line and use it as a firm base. A Squadron was to secure the right flank whilst C Squadron 23rd Hussars was to take Four from the east. This attack met with little success and the general advance stalled.

Pip Roberts realized that the momentum of battle had waned and that 3rd Royal Tanks and 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry were fought out. He ordered forward his only remaining reserve, 2nd Northants Yeomanry, the divisions Cromwell equipped armoured reconnaissance regiment. They were told to attack Bras. They moved through the culvert in the second railway line and were immediately taken under fire from the direction of Cormelles. The regiment received significant casualties and retreated north to safety. 

As dusk fell the leading elements of the 7th Armoured reached the tail end of 11th Armoured and by 19:00 5th Royal Tanks were up with 23rd Hussars. They tried to push forward, lost some tanks and as night fell it was decided that it would be best to laager up for the night just south of Le Mesnil-Frementel leaving A Squadron forward.

During that day, 11th Armoured were not the only division in action. As well as the Grenadier Guards taking Cagny Guards Armoured Coldstream Guards and Guards Armoured Irish Guards pushed east of Cagny towards le Pourier where they met with serious opposition. The Irish Guards tried to forces their way between Cagny and Emieville towards Frenouville.

Lieutenant John Gorman in the leading troop had the very unenviable honour of being first to spot a King Tiger of 503. Schwere Panzerabteilung that had just appeared not more than 200 yards away. After ordering his gunner to fire on the target he was horrified to hear that the gun was jammed. Gorman rammed the Tiger with his own tank causing both crews to bail out. Gorman then jumped into the troop Firefly and brewed up the Tiger.

At 21:00 the 3rd Irish Guards were ordered to move forward and laager up for the night at Frenouville under the impression that it had been taken by an armoured regiment. Unfortunately it was the centre of Von Luck’s HQ and was defended in strength. The day ended in confusion with significant losses on both sides.

Pip Roberts
11th Armoured had lost 128 of 219 tanks that day alone to a combination of mechanical failures and German gunfire. Luckily for the British, a great many of those were returned to action for the next day or were replaced from the vast stockpile of vehicles in the Allied beachhead.
The fighting for Bourguebus Ridge

Day 2 – 19th July 1944

Day 2 began with a divisional recce mission for the Northants Yeomanry to discover if the Germans had pulled back in the night. The question was quickly answered when the 2nd Northants Yeomanry were greeted with significant amounts of anti-tank shots from Bras. Not only had the Germans not retired they had been reinforced with elements of the 1. SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment at Bras and Hubert-Folie but also 2. SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment in Four. Still worse fortune for the Allies was a concerted counter-attack that was launched at 07:00 towards the 3rd Royal Tanks’ lines that had thankfully been reinforced during the night. This attack was beaten off, but it forced 3rd Royal Tanks to retire about a mile north and reorganize into two 10-tank squadrons.

During that day a new plan was hatched. With full artillery support 11th Armoured, led by the 2nd Northants Yeomanry, was to attack Bras and then Hubert-Folie at 16:00. An hour later 7th Armoured was to attack Bourguebus and Four at the same time that Guards Armoured was to attack Le Poirier and then Frenouville.

The attack by the Northants Yeomanry went well and they managed to get into the outskirts of Bras. Unfortunately they had strayed to near to Ifs and they came under 88 anti-tank fire from that direction. Unlike previous attacks the momentum was not lost in this action.

F and H companies of the 8th Rifles followed up quickly behind the floundering Northants Yeomanry and pushed into the village. With true dash and bitter determination the village was captured by 17:40 and 300 prisoners of the 3rd Battalion, 1. SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment had been taken. Northants Yeomanry was then ordered to exploit the foothold that Bras had provided by a quick action to take Hubert-Folie. Unfortunately this attack was broken up when forming thanks to a well-timed artillery bombardment from the Germans.

It was decided that the attack on Hubert-Folie could not be mounted by the Northants Yeomanry so 2nd Fife and Forfar were ordered forward to carry the attack that kicked off at 18:10. The attack went in well and G Company of the 8th Rifles captured 80 prisoners and killed many more. With both villages secure, 4th KSLI , 3rd Monmouthshires and 1st Herefords of 159th Brigade were ordered up to secure both villages as a strong foothold. 

Like the assault by 11th Armoured those of the Guards Armoured Division also met with some success. After a very vigorous artillery barrage, by 17:30 the Welsh Guards had taken Le Poirier. It was decided that Frenouville should be taken with a full frontal attack on 20 July. In preparation for this attack the 3rd Irish Guards pushed on into the orchards in the North of Frenouville and dug in. 

After a tortuous couple of days where 7th Armoured had been beset by traffic jams and horrid night moves, the division was finally about to get into the fray. By 11:20, 5th Royal Tanks and I Company of the 1st Rifles reported that they had broken into the outskirts of Soliers, but that strong resistance was still coming from Four. Erskine, the commander of 7th Armoured, ordered 5th Royal Tanks to break off its attack on Four and concentrate upon Soliers, using it as a foothold to get into Bourguebus, leaving Four to the 1st Royal Tank Regiment battalion. 

Operation Goodwood
At 17:00 and according to plan, B Squadron 1st Royal Tanks and C Company 1st Rifles, attacked Four. It was a very intense action as Four was heavily defended, but by 20:30 the village was taken. At the same time 5th Royal Tanks had managed to work around the fringes of the German defence at Bourguebus knocking out two tigers and a panther. Unfortunately the attack was hampered by the delay in 11th Armoured taking Hubert-Folie. 
British take prisoners

By 21:55 a successful air strike on La Hogue allowed elements of 5th Royal Tanks to get onto the La Hogue/Bourguebus road. As night fell the division pulled back to laager near of Solier.


By the end of the 19 July 1944, VIII Corps was solidly in control of Four, Soliers, Bras, Hubert-Folie, Le Poirier and was threatening the villages Frenouville and Bourguebus. What had begun as a dashing attack ended up in a slogging match of attrition. The Allies lost hundreds of tanks to the well-set layers of German defences. The Germans lost much in the way of irreplaceable hardware. Whether it was intended to or not. It surely aided the breakout of Cobra.

More on Goodwood

The Controversy of Operation Goodwood...

Hill 112 ~ There and back again...

Hill 112 Axis Of Attack Campaign...

British and Commonwealth Divisions

51st Highland Division...

2nd Canadian Division...  

11th Armoured Division...

Guards Armoured Division...

For 7th Armoured Division see D-Day: British

For 3rd Division and 3rd Canadian Division see D-Day: British 

Last Updated On Friday, April 24, 2020 by Wayne at Battlefront