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

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The day is Jugend

The days after D-Day had a multitude of differing battles as the Allies fought for control. One of these battles occurred on D+2 when the 12th SS Hitler Jugend clashed head-first with the Canadian forces moving on Caen. 


It all started around Bretteville-l'Orgueilleuse, which is north-west of Caen and sits in a controlling position along the road to Bayeux. The Canadian Regina Rifles captured this village without resistance on the 7th as they pushed forward. To the south-west of Bretteville-l'Orgueilleuse is the village of Norrey. At 0300 the following morning the SS troops launched their first assault. First into the breach was a SS Panzergrenadier battalion. Advancing with two companies up and one in reserve, they pushed towards Norrey. In support they had several artillery guns. The Canadian forces were well alert to the attack due to the noise of the halftracks advancing. The outposts gave fire and fell back to the main defensive positions. The Commonwealth artillery then opened fire, slamming into the armoured carriers. Unable to push forward due to the stiff resistance from the Canadian front line, and unable to dismount due to the artillery the Germans awaited their own supporting fire. It never came. The observers with the German forces were being jammed by the Allies, and so were unable to get through. The German assault was so easily blocked that the defenders did not realise they were facing a battalion of troops, and thought it was a minor probing attack! 

12th SS half-track.

The Germans only tried again when night had fallen on the 8th. Every man and vehicle that could be brought up were thrown into a wide assault heading towards the beaches. This mass included Panzers, halftracks, armoured cars and self-propelled artillery. The assault was spotted at around 2200 that night. Using their carriers the Canadians threw a skirmish line to the south and back a bit from Bretteville-l'Orgueilleuse, sitting astride the Caen-Bayeux road which seemed to be the main axis of advance, with orders to fight a delaying action. As the Germans entered this shallow killing zone, at a range of 300 yards from Bretteville-l'Orgueilleuse, the Canadians opened fire. The first 6-pounder shot hit a Panther parked hull down by a large yellow railway station, destroying it utterly. By sheer chance this Panther was the company commanders’ tank, in the turret with him was the commander of the reconnaissance company, both were killed. Despite this the overwhelming firepower the Germans could bring to bear meant that after about half an hour the Canadians fell back to re-join the main body of men. The 6-pounder which accounted for the company commander’s tank fell back a few hundred yards behind a stone wall, from this position he took out a 2nd Panther. By now this 6-pounder was the only remaining gun in operation, and the crew were reduced to just three men, the others fetching ammo or assisting other guns elsewhere in the village. Unable to see the crew fired a 2-inch flare, the response from the Germans was instant, an AP round came screaming past. It hit a haystack and set it on fire. Bathed in the light of the burning haystack the 6-pounder crew had to relocate again. The wall had been part of a farm yard perimeter, so the 6-pounder crew wheeled their gun into the Farmyard, now they only have a limited arc and a range of about 250 yards. Then a Panther blundered into the line of fire. Square on, the 6-pounder hit it in the side of the turret. The tank suffered a catastrophic armour failure as the German armour fractured under the velocity of the hit. A huge slab was torn from the armour, the massive spalling killed or wounded the crew, and the Panther rolled down a slope and came to rest across the main road, utterly blocking it. 

One of the Panthers of the 12th SS inside the village.

The Germans began to mount an attack into the village. A desperate, confused house to house fight then occurred. Light was provided by burning tanks and houses. Canadian flares would splutter upwards to add more light. It was estimated there were around twenty Panthers, plus the supporting infantry attacking the town. At 0030 a Panther pulled up outside the Battalion HQ. A lone Canadian leapt up from behind a low wall with a PIAT, at just 15 yards The first bomb had no effect, other than to cause the Panther to move forward A second and then third bomb followed at 3o yards finally setting the Panther on fire. At 0220 another Panther was destroyed near the mortar positions by another PIAT. At 0315 an armoured car tried a high-speed run down the main road only to be stopped dead by more PIAT fire. At one point a Volkswagen driven by a German officer pulled up outside the battle-damaged Battalion HQ. The confusion was so total he failed to realise that it was still in enemy hands, and he stood there staring at the damage. He too was hit and killed by a PIAT. At 0423 the Panthers withdrew. The Canadians chased them with artillery fire. The Germans were not withdrawing, but re-grouping. At 0445 they mounted a massed attack, but this too was repulsed. 

Another shot from inside Bretteville-l'Orgueilleuse. Of note is the Universal carrier in the background still with its wading kit on.

At 0900 on the 9th the Panthers were replaced in the line with some Panzer IV’s. This allowed the Panthers to withdraw back towards Caen. The SS commander had felt his lack of progress was due to the Canadians still holding Norrey, and nothing to do with the stubborn defence and rain of PIAT bombs and 6-pounder shot. By now the Panthers were reduced to just twelve tanks. These were sent directly east to Norrey. As they approached the Panther commander manoeuvred to the south of the village, carefully keeping his frontal armour pointing towards the village and the expected 6-pounders. 

A line up of Canadian Sherman's and Firefly's.

Under 1,000m away there were nine tanks. These belonged to the Canadian Elgin Regiment. The regiment was a replacement and delivery formation for the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. These nine tanks were being moved forward to replace losses from the previous day. They had taken a detour around an obstacle, when they spotted the twelve unsupported Panthers trying to work their way past Norrey. Of the nine tanks, five were Fireflies, the others regular Shermans.

The first round hit a Panthers track, and it shuddered to a halt. The Germans thought they had driven into a minefield and halted, while all the commanders stuck their heads out of their turrets to try and spot the mines. Then the immobilised Panther was struck again and began to burn, and another Panther brewed up seconds later. In four minutes, seven Panthers were destroyed, and the rest immobilised with the crews bailing out. 

Three knocked out panthers (there's five in this group) in a field not to far from Bretteville-l'Orgueilleuse

The 12th SS Hitler Jugend had been fought to a standstill. Repeated unsupported attacks, which were poorly coordinated had meant the Canadians had stopped them dead, preventing them from taking positions which could have been used as a jumping off point for attacking the D-day beaches. 


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Image credits:

 www.flamesofwar.com and www.canadiansoldiers.com