D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor
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Overview: The Guards Armoured Division, originally delayed by the great storm, was by now ready to take part. Its officers were urged to visit the different fronts in Jeeps to pick up what they could in battle knowledge. But the experience was not exactly encouraging. ‘I came upon a line of six or seven British Sherman tanks,’ wrote a member of the Irish Guards, ‘each of which had a neat hole in the side. Most had been burnt out. They had obviously been hit in quick succession, probably by the same gun.’ On their return, when briefed for Operation Goodwood, they were told that they were ‘going to break right through’. Goodwood, named like Epsom after a racecourse, prompted the joke that it would be a ‘day at the races’.
Montgomery, using his strategy of ‘alternate thrusts’ to throw the Germans off balance before the main offensive, persuaded Dempsey to begin with diversionary attacks further west. Shortly before midnight on 15 July, the British attacked near Esquay, Hill 112 and Maltot with flame-throwing Crocodile tanks. In the dark, they must have appeared like armoured dragons. Even further west, XXX Corps mounted a limited push. ‘There is a nice cool breeze now moving the ripening corn,’ wrote a captain near Fontenay-le-Pesnel. ‘Amongst the corn one can just see the tops of guns and tanks, the spurts of flame and clouds of dust as they fire … another gloriously hot day. Dusty, hazy, with gunfire smoke hanging low over the corn like a November fog.’
Once again, Hill 112, the ‘hill of Calvary’, saw the most bitter fighting. The commander of the 9th SS Panzer-Division Hohenstaufen recorded that, on the evening of 16 July, the British laid such a heavy smokescreen on this high ground that his defending troops felt sick and thought it was a gas attack. British tanks broke through at about 21.00 hours and took sixty of his panzergrenadiers prisoner. But Hohenstaufen Panthers on the reverse slope of the hill counter-attacked and claimed to have knocked out fifteen tanks.
The German 277th Infanterie-Division had just reached the front near Evrecy from Béziers on the Mediterranean coast. A young gunner with the division, Eberhard Beck, travelled with his artillery regiment to the Loire by train, then marched from there by night. Even the draught horses pulling their 150 mm howitzers and limbers had been half asleep. When the column halted, which was often, the horses trudged on, and the soldiers dozing on the back of the gun carriage in front found a horse’s muzzle in their face. The only high point of their journey had been the successful looting of a wine cellar in a château. Beck and his fellow soldiers had no idea what to expect in Normandy.
Closer to the front, they were joined by infantry, carrying Panzerfaust anti-tank grenade launchers over their shoulders. They could see ahead the sickly light of magnesium flares and ‘the whole length of the front flashed and flickered like lightning’. Beck wanted to hide himself in the depths of a wood or forest.
Genre: Non-Fiction > History