Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Operation Gutesholz

At 1400, on 27th June 1944 the guns around Rauray, almost due west of Caen, fell silent. Both the Germans and British forces had agreed a local truce to allow recovery of the wounded. The village of Rauray had been the focal point for the British attack that had been rolling on for the last few days. Rauray had been selected as the objective, because it was on the high ground, and a British attack was to pass underneath this position as part of the larger battle for Caen. If the Germans had been left in position, they would have had full observation across the attack, and had a perfect jumping off point for an attack into the flank of the Scottish 15th Division. To give you an idea of the severity of the fighting, earlier a company of the 11th Durham Light Infantry, consisting of two platoons, and seventy men had been reduced to just six uninjured. On the German side a company of Panzer Grenadiers was down to just 21 men.  During the truce, at 1600 the Germans withdrew, considering their position untenable in the short term, and left the British in charge of the ruined ground.
Clearing a sniper in Rauray.
The remains of the exhausted 11th DLI battalion occupied Rauray itself. In support was the 1st Tyneside Scottish battalion. Over the next couple of days, they pushed out from their position but met stiff German resistance, and were subjected to particularly heavy Nebelwerfer barrages. The resistance came from Kampfgruppe Weidinger, which was made up of elements from the 2nd SS Panzer Division. By the 1st of July the 1st Tyneside has extended their line to the south east of Rauray and linked up with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. The 1st Tyneside's positions were not entirely random. Previously they had reconnoitered the area looking for good defensive positions. Most of the area was bocage, with limited fields of fire. However, A company was sited in a large five cornered field, which gave several hundred meters view range. Into this field were deployed several of the 1st Tynesides surviving 6-pounder anti-tank guns. The others were dispersed where they could find the best fields of fire along the relatively open front. In addition, two dummy guns were set up to further confuse the Germans. To their rear was the Suffolk Yeomanry.

Early on the 1st of July the Germans launched a major attack. Kampfgruppe Weidinger was reinforced by the 9th SS Panzer Division and this mass of tanks and Germans advanced on the battered battalions around Rauray. The German objective was not to take Rauray, but head for Cheux. Rauray, and the positions to the south east were directly across the German's axis of attack. In doing so they would slice off the head of the British salient extending past Caen, and cripple British forces in Normandy. Von Rundstedt saw this as their last chance to throw the Allies back into the channel. The initial opening looked very very promising. The attack started at 0600, and by 0630 the 1st Tyneside company that had been the focal point of the attack was reported as falling back through the Suffolk Yeomanry's positions. All that stood in the way of this mass of armour were a handful of 6-pounders.
Those 6-pounders however had a secret weapon, super velocity rounds. These days more commonly called APDS these days, this was likely the first real test of this brand-new projectile. But initially it caused problems. Brian Stewart, commander of the 1st Tyneside's anti-tank platoon reported that the gunners were caught out by the velocity of the shots, and most of the rounds fired went high. However, the range was short and some would have struck. It is likely that after the initial opening salvo's the 6-pounders had used up their scarce few APDS shots and started firing good old fashioned APCBC, with telling results.
Due to the unusually open terrain, at least for Normandy, the Germans found themselves in a rather horrific crossfire. Tanks from the 24th Lancers had moved up to support the 11th DLI in Rauray and were on the left of the German attack. The 1st Tyneside's 6-pounders were on the right-hand side of the attack, and the Suffolk Yeomanry were blocking the front.
Moving a 6-pounder by hand.
There is an account from the Suffolk Yeomanry's after-action report, where a German tank flanks a pair of anti-tank guns and begins to lay accurate fire on them, causing causalities. One of the gun Sergeants, by the name of Hall, rallied the survivors and formed an ad-hoc gun grew. These men then manhandled their gun 350 yards to bring it into a new firing position. They got their gun ready to fire, and just in time. A Tiger used a burning enemy tank that had been previously knocked out to advance into a hull down position. Two rounds were fired, the second one causing the Tiger to brew up. A second Tiger attempted the advance in exactly the same way. The crew had the range perfectly and only needed one round to destroy it. Shortly afterwards a Panzer IV became engaged with the gun team. A fierce firefight broke out, and several men were wounded, and one killed. However, the Panzer IV was destroyed. Then a packet of four or more German tanks attacked. This was too much for the infantry who retreated, leaving Sgt Hall's mauled gun team to hold them off. In the bitter fighting that followed it seems that Sgt Hall knocked out or destroyed two of them.

This crossfire, and the stubborn resistance by the Suffolk Yeomanry blunted the German attack. Later that day, around 1100 they shifted their axis of attack northwards and closer to Rauray. The Suffolk's, DLI, 1st Tynesides and 24th Lancers, although battered and exhausted kept on fighting holding the Germans with bitter fighting. By 1700 the Germans retreated. The exact losses the Germans suffered is hard to tell. But as an example, Kampfgruppe Weidinger lost 48 vehicles from all causes. The 9th SS Panzer Division, on the 2nd of July reported the following vehicles operational, 10 Panzer IV's, 19 Panthers and Stug III's. Upon hearing of the results of the battle, Von Rundstedt was asked, what do we do know? To which he responded "Make peace, you fool!".
Attacking prepared massed anti-tank guns is expensive in tanks, as the British would find out in Op Goodwood. However, there was one huge difference between the German attack at Rauray and Op Goodwood. The British actually managed to take ground, the Germans failed.

Image credits:
www.militaryimages.net and www.dday-overlord.com