Operation Perch
Operation Perch was a British offensive of the Second World War which took place between 7 and 14 June 1944, during the Battle of Normandy. The operation was intended to encircle and seize the German
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 occupied city of Caen
Caen is a commune in northwestern France. It is the prefecture of the Calvados department and the capital of the Basse-Normandie region. It is located inland from the English Channel....

, which was a major Allied objective in the early stages of the invasion of northwest Europe
Operation Overlord
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the operation that launched the invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II by Allied forces. The operation commenced on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings...

. A combination of fierce German resistance and failures at the British command level foiled the operation before its objectives were achieved.

Operation Perch was originally intended to take place immediately after the British beach landings, and was to be an advance to the southeast of Caen by XXX Corps. This depended on Caen's early liberation, but three days after the invasion the city was still in German hands so the operation was altered. Perch was expanded to include I Corps and became a pincer attack aimed at capturing Caen. Beginning the following day XXX Corps, forming the western arm of the encirclement, pushed south before becoming embroiled with strong German forces in a hotly contested battle for the town of Tilly-sur-Seulles
-External links:*...

, which would change hands several times before its liberation. I Corps's eastern thrust was launched two days later from the Orne bridgehead, secured on D-Day by British airborne forces during Operation Tonga
Operation Tonga
Operation Tonga was the codename given to the airborne operation undertaken by the British 6th Airborne Division between 5 June and 7 June 1944 as a part of Operation Overlord and the Normandy Landings during the Second World War....

, but made little progress in the face of determined resistance and constant counterattacks. With mounting casualties and no sign of an imminent German collapse, by 13 June the offensive east of Caen was abandoned.

Meanwhile, to the west, American pressure had opened up a gap in the German lines. In an attempt to keep operations mobile the 7th Armoured Division was diverted from the combat around Tilly-sur-Seulles and ordered to advance through the gap in a flanking manoeuvre intended to force the Germans to fall back. After two days of intense fighting that included the Battle of Villers-Bocage
Battle of Villers-Bocage
The Battle of Villers-Bocage took place during the Second World War on 13 June 1944, one week after the Allies landed in Normandy to begin the liberation of German-occupied France. The battle was the result of a British attempt to improve their position by exploiting a temporary vulnerability in...

, on 14 June the division's position was judged untenable and it was withdrawn. Plans were made to resume the offensive once 7th Armoured had been reinforced, but these were dropped when a severe storm in the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 seriously disrupted allied supply operations.

Both the decision to exploit the gap and the handling of the subsequent battle have been subjects of controversy. Historians generally agree that, because of failures at the British divisional and corps command levels, an early opportunity to capture Caen was squandered. However, to contain the offensive the Germans had been forced to commit their most powerful armoured reserves in a defensive role, in which they incurred heavy losses and were incapable of counteroffensive operations.


The Norman town of Caen was a D-Day objective for the British 3rd Infantry Division, which landed on Sword Beach
Sword Beach
Sword, commonly known as Sword Beach, was the code name given to one of the five main landing areas along the Normandy coast during the initial assault phase, Operation Neptune, of Operation Overlord; the Allied invasion of German-occupied France that commenced on 6 June 1944...

 on 6 June 1944. Caen's early capture, while "ambitious", has been described by historian L F Ellis as the most important D-Day objective assigned to Lieutenant-General Crocker
John Crocker
General Sir John Tredinnick Crocker GCB, KBE, DSO, MC was a British Army officer and corps commander during the Second World War.- First World War :...

's I Corps. Operation Overlord called for Lieutenant-General Sir Miles Dempsey
Miles Dempsey
General Sir Miles Christopher Dempsey, GBE, KCB, DSO, MC was commander of the British Second Army during the D-Day landings in the Second World War...

's Second Army to secure the city and then form a front line from Caumont-l'Éventé
Caumont-l'Éventé is a commune in the Calvados department in northwestern France.-Population:-Administration:Caumont-l'Éventé is the seat of the canton of Caumont-l'Éventé, which includes 14 communes with 6373 inhabitants .-References:*...

 to the south-east of Caen, acquiring airfields and protecting the left flank of the United States First Army while it moved on Cherbourg. Possession of Caen and its surroundings would give Second Army a suitable staging area for a push south to capture Falaise
Falaise, Calvados
Falaise is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-History:The town was the birthplace of William I the Conqueror, first of the Norman Kings of England. The Château de Falaise , which overlooks the town from a high crag, was formerly the seat of...

, which could be used as the pivot for a swing left to advance on Argentan
Argentan is a commune, and the seat of two cantons and of an arrondissement in the Orne department in north-western France.Argentan is located NE of Rennes, ENE of the Mont Saint-Michel, SE of Cherbourg, SSE of Caen, SW of Rouen and N of Le Mans....

 and then towards the Touques River
Touques River
The Touques is a small 104 km long coastal river in Pays d'Auge in Normandy, France. The Touques is officially navigable up to the Pont des Belges, 800 m from its estuary. Its source is in the Perche hills, south of Gacé. The river runs northwards, and flows into the English Channel between the...

. The terrain between Caen and Vimont was especially promising, being open, dry and conducive to swift offensive operations—the Allies greatly outnumbered the Germans in tanks and mobile units, and transforming the battle into a more fluid engagement would be to their advantage.

Original plan

According to its pre-D-Day design, Operation Perch was intended to create the threat of a British breakout to the southeast of Caen. The operation was assigned to XXX Corps; 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division, landing on Gold Beach
Gold Beach
Gold Beach was the code name of one of the D-Day landing beaches that Allied forces used to invade German-occupied France on 6 June 1944, during World War II....

 on 6 June, was tasked with moving rapidly inland to capture Bayeux and the road to Tilly-sur-Seulles. The 7th Armoured Division, reinforced with the 8th Armoured Brigade, would then take over from 50th Northumbrian and spearhead a further advance from Tilly-sur-Seulles to Mont Pinçon
Mont Pinçon
Mont Pinçon is the highest point of the département of Calvados, in Normandy, with an elevation of . It is in the west of Swiss Normandy about to the south-west of Caen, near the village of Plessis-Grimoult....


Operation Wild Oats

Having landed on Gold Beach
Gold Beach
Gold Beach was the code name of one of the D-Day landing beaches that Allied forces used to invade German-occupied France on 6 June 1944, during World War II....

 at 07:30 on 6 June, XXX Corps succeeded in clearing seven exits off the beach and advancing 5 miles (8 km) inland, but because of heavy fighting in Le Hamel were unable to achieve all their D-Day objectives before dark. Patrols had reached the outskirts of Bayeux
Bayeux is a commune in the Calvados department in Normandy in northwestern France.Bayeux is the home of the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England.-Administration:Bayeux is a sub-prefecture of Calvados...

, and contact had been established with elements of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division
3rd Canadian Infantry Division
The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division was an infantry division of the Canadian Army from 1940 to c.1945.- History :The formation of the division was authorized on 17 May 1940...

, who had landed on Juno Beach
Juno Beach
Juno or Juno Beach was one of five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, during the Second World War. The sector spanned from Saint-Aubin, a village just east of the British Gold sector, to Courseulles, just west of the British Sword sector...

. The 47 Royal Marine Commando, advancing along the coast to link up with the Americans moving inland from Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach is the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, during World War II...

, fell short of reaching Port-en-Bessin-Huppain
Port-en-Bessin-Huppain is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.The commune contains the two towns of Port-en-Bessin and Huppain.-Population:-Media:...

 by 3 miles (4.8 km). During the afternoon LXXXIV Corps ordered its reserve, Kampfgruppe Meyer, to strike into the flank of the 50th Division north of Bayeux. En route to conduct the counterattack one battalion was ordered towards Omaha beach, weakening the counterattack force. The attack failed with heavy casualties. On 7 June the bulk of the 7th Armoured Division was landed on schedule and XXX Corps secured its remaining D-Day objectives, including Bayeux and Port-en-Bessin-Huppain. During the day LXXXXIV Corps launched the only remaining reserves available, Mobile Brigade 30, towards Gold Beach in an attempt to repeat the previous days counterattack; the attack failed and the brigade was effectively destroyed north of Bayeux. The remnants of the two failed counterattacks were then driven into a pocket north of the city by the Anglo-American advance; although the Americans were unaware that this had taken place.

Not all had gone as smoothly for the forces that landed on Sword Beach. I Corps's 3rd Infantry Division had struck inland towards Caen as planned, but had to divert elements to subdue strongly held German positions along the 9.3 miles (15 km) route to the town. With its effort being progressively diluted and its armoured support delayed by congestion in the beachhead, the division was unable to generate enough momentum to reach Caen on D-Day and was stopped short of its outskirts by the 21st Panzer Division.

On 9 June Caen was still firmly in German hands, so the Allied ground forces commander General Bernard Montgomery met with Lieutenant-Generals Miles Dempsey
Miles Dempsey
General Sir Miles Christopher Dempsey, GBE, KCB, DSO, MC was commander of the British Second Army during the D-Day landings in the Second World War...

 and Omar Bradley
Omar Bradley
Omar Nelson Bradley was a senior U.S. Army field commander in North Africa and Europe during World War II, and a General of the Army in the United States Army...

 (commanding the British Second and United States First Armies) and decided a new plan for Second Army. Caen would be taken with a pincer movement
Pincer movement
The pincer movement or double envelopment is a military maneuver. The flanks of the opponent are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion after the opponent has advanced towards the center of an army which is responding by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks, in order to surround it...

, code-named Operation Wild Oats. The eastern arm of the pincer would consist of I Corps's 51st (Highland) Infantry Division and the 4th Armoured Brigade. The armour and Highlanders would cross into the Orne bridgehead, the ground gained east of the Orne by the 6th Airborne Division during Operation Tonga
Operation Tonga
Operation Tonga was the codename given to the airborne operation undertaken by the British 6th Airborne Division between 5 June and 7 June 1944 as a part of Operation Overlord and the Normandy Landings during the Second World War....

, and attack southwards to Cagny
Cagny, Calvados
Cagny is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-Population:...

, 6 miles (9.7 km) to the southeast of Caen. XXX Corps would form the pincer's western arm. In an alteration to Operation Perch, instead of making for Mont Pinçon the 7th Armoured Division would now swing east, crossing the Odon River
Odon River
The Odon is a river in the Calvados department, in Normandy, northwestern France. It is 47 km long and is a left tributary of the Orne. The river passes through Jurques, Aunay-sur-Odon, Baron-sur-Odon, Bretteville-sur-Odon, Épinay-sur-Odon, Grainville-sur-Odon, Parfouru-sur-Odon, Tournay-sur-Odon...

 to take Évrecy

 and the high ground near the town (Hill 112). To complete the encirclement it was suggested that the 1st Airborne Division be air-dropped between the two arms, but the allied air commander, Air Chief Marshal
Air Chief Marshal
Air chief marshal is a senior 4-star air-officer rank which originated in and continues to be used by the Royal Air Force...

 Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory
Trafford Leigh-Mallory
Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory KCB, DSO & Bar was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force. Leigh-Mallory served as a Royal Flying Corps pilot and squadron commander during World War I...

, opposed this move. He refused to fly the division into Normandy, arguing that the drop would scatter the division too widely to fulfil its objectives, and that the drop zone was in any case too dangerous for his pilots. Despite Montgomery's "bitter anger" at Leigh-Mallory's intransigence, the pincer attack went ahead without its airborne component; according to historian Hubert Meyer
Hubert Meyer
SS-Obersturmbannführer Hubert Meyer was a German Waffen-SS officer who served with the 1.SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and was one of the commanders of the 12.SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend. After the war, he became active in the veteran's association HIAG. He is the...

 it was incorporated into Operation Perch, and Wild Oats was dropped as a separate operation.

German preparations

In response to the invasion, late on 7 June I SS-Panzer Corps was transferred from Seventh Army to Panzer Group West. The commander of OB West
OB West
The German Army Command in the West The German Army Command in the West The German Army Command in the West (Oberbefehlshaber West (German: initials OB West) was the overall command of the Westheer, the German Armed Forces on the Western Front during World War II. It was directly subordinate to...

, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
Gerd von Rundstedt
Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was a Generalfeldmarschall of the German Army during World War II. He held some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war....

, initially ordered the group under General Geyr von Schweppenburg to plan a counterattack for 10 June, but this was aborted by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Erwin Rommel
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel , popularly known as the Desert Fox , was a German Field Marshal of World War II. He won the respect of both his own troops and the enemies he fought....

 as the necessary forces could not be concentrated in time. Nevertheless the available German units were rushed forward from their staging areas to contain the Allied beachheads. I SS-Panzer Corps was a powerful formation consisting of the Panzer-Lehr-Division (one of the strongest divisions in the German army), the "fanatical teenagers" of the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was a German Waffen SS armoured division during World War II. The Hitlerjugend was unique because the majority of its junior enlisted men were drawn from members of the Hitler Youth, while the senior NCOs and officers were generally veterans of the Eastern...

, and the veteran 21st Panzer Division. Despite losing up to 200 vehicles to aerial attacks during its 90 miles (144.8 km) drive from Chartres, the leading elements of Panzerlehr arrived during the night of 9 June in the Tilly-sur-Seulles area opposite XXX Corps; having been diverted from concentrating against I Corps, to face XXX Corps due to the successful advance of the 50th division and to halt any further advance. Elements of the 12th SS-Panzer, 21st Panzer and the remains of the 716th Static Infantry Division were moved into positions around Caen, facing I Corps.

XXX Corps attack

Although a concentrated counter-stroke from all three panzer divisions of I SS-Panzer Corps did not materialise, several attacks were launched against the Anglo-Canadian beachhead north of Caen. In the early hours of 9 June the survivors of Kampfgruppe Meyer and Mobile Brigade 30 broke out of the pocket north of Bayeux. Later in the day XXX Corps established a land link to the Americans while the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division reached the northeast outskirts of Tilly-sur-Seulles and first encountered the tanks of Panzerlehr. During the evening Panzerlehr and the 12th SS-Panzer Division counterattacked; although they were beaten off the following morning one British company had been overrun. On 10 June the 7th Armoured Division took over portions of 50th Northumbrian's front, with 50th Northumbrian's 56th Infantry Brigade being detached to 7th Armoured. By day's end the division had reached Tilly-sur-Seulles's northwest outskirts, and the following day elements entered the town and secured the central crossroads. The British occupation was brief however, as the Panzer Lehr launched several counterattacks, forcing a withdrawal. Further attempts by 50th Northumbrian bogged down in the bocage
Bocage is a Norman word which has entered both the French and English languages. It may refer to a small forest, a decorative element of leaves, a terrain of mixed woodland and pasture, or a type of rubble-work, comparable with the English use of 'rustic' in relation to garden...

, unable to overcome the formidable resistance offered by Panzerlehr.

Starting on 11 June Army Group B
Army Group B
Army Group B was the name of three different German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.-Battle for France:The first was involved in the Western Campaign in 1940 in Belgium and the Netherlands which was to be aimed to conquer the Maas bridges after the German airborne actions in Rotterdam...

 planned to replace their armoured forces, facing Second Army, with infantry divisions so that their armour could be concentrated in the Carentan
Carentan is a small rural town near the north-eastern base of the French Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy in north-western France near the port city of Cherbourg-Octeville. Carentan has a population somewhat over 6,000 and is now administratively organized as a commune in the Manche department...

 area to avert the danger to Cherbourg. However due to the attacks launched by Second Army, and Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

’s opposition, Rommel was unable to orchestrate this move. The next day Rommel was ordered, by Hitler, that no retreat was to be authorised and to roll up the Allied beachhead from east to west starting with the Orne bridgehead.

I Corps attack

While XXX Corps was battling for control of Tilly-sur-Seulles, on the I Corps front the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division and the 4th Armoured Brigade were delayed getting into position, so their attack was rescheduled for 12 June. Ludovic Fortin implies that in the event 51st Highland advanced alone, giving the 4th Armoured Brigade's first major combat as Operation Epsom
Operation Epsom
Operation Epsom, also known as the First Battle of the Odon, was a Second World War British offensive that took place between 26 and 30 June 1944, during the Battle of Normandy...

, prior to which it was supporting the 50th Division. On 10 June German infantry, supported by armour, launched numerous attacks against the 6th Airborne, who were holding the Orne bridgehead in anticipation of 51st Highland's and 4th Armoured's arrival. The paratroopers held firm and, with naval gunfire support, counterattacked; one captured German officer remarked that his "battalion had been virtually wiped out" during 12 hours of fighting. In the evening the Germans attempted to retake Ranville, but this attack was also stopped and then countered, the paratroopers once again inflicting severe losses. The lead formations of 51st Highland arrived during the evening, and the following morning launched an assault on Bréville
Battle of Bréville
The Battle of Bréville was fought by the British 6th Airborne Division and the German 346th Infantry Division, between the 8 and 13 June 1944, during the invasion of Normandy in the Second World War....

. Although this was repulsed with heavy casualties, other elements of the division quickly secured Touffreville. During the afternoon of the 11 June The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada is a militia regiment within the Canadian Forces, based in Toronto, Ontario. The regiment is part of Land Force Central Area's 32 Canadian Brigade Group. It is the only Primary Reserve regiment in Canada to have a parachute role. The regiment consists of the reserve...

 and 1st Hussars
1st Hussars
The 1st Hussars is an armoured Primary Reserve regiment of the Canadian Forces, currently based in London, Ontario and Sarnia, Ontario.-Foundation and organisation:...

 launched an attack to capture Le Mesnil-Patry
Le Mesnil-Patry

 to facilitate the advance of 50th Division’s 69th Brigade; the attack, the Battle of Le Mesnil-Patry
Battle of Le Mesnil-Patry
The Battle of Le Mesnil-Patry was the last big operation conducted by Canadian land forces in Normandy during June 1944. The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, supported by the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment attempted to take the town of Le Mesnil-Patry in Normandy as part of a southwards move on the...

, was a complete and costly failure.

On 12 June further German attacks were launched from the Bréville area against the Orne bridgehead. Fighting lasted all day and casualties were severe on both sides, but during the evening the Germans pulled back. To close the gap in the British perimeter the decision was made to secure Bréville. A successful attack was launched by the 12th Battalion the Parachute Regiment that by midnight had captured the village, but of the 160 men that began the attack 141 casualties were sustained. However, 51st Highland was facing stiff resistance from the 21st Panzer Division in its efforts to push south to Saint Honorine and with the Highlanders unable to make progress, the offensive east of Caen was called off on 13 June.

Caumont Gap and the Right Hook

Although the envelopment of Caen had stalled, on XXX Corps's right flank at the junction between the British Second and United States First Armies, a potentially favourable situation had developed. Since D-Day the British and Americans had destroyed five German battle groups
In military history and military slang, the German term Kampfgruppe can refer to a combat formation of any kind, but most usually to that employed by the German Wehrmacht and its allies during World War II and, to a lesser extent, in World War I...

 including LXXXXIV Corps's reserves, leaving only the battered 352nd Infantry Division covering the Trévières
Trévières is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-Administration:Trévières is part of the communauté de communes de Trévières, which includes 25 communes and has its seat in Formigny....

Agy is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-Population:...

 sector. The 352nd had been in continuous action since its defence of Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach is the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, during World War II...

 on 6 June and had received few replacements for the heavy losses it had suffered. Under severe pressure from the United States 1st
U.S. 1st Infantry Division
The 1st Infantry Division of the United States Army is the oldest division in the United States Army. It has seen continuous service since its organization in 1917...

 and 2nd
U.S. 2nd Infantry Division
The 2nd Infantry Division is a formation of the United States Army. Its current primary mission is the defense of South Korea in the initial stages of an invasion from North Korea until other American units can arrive...

 Infantry Divisions, the 352nd's left flank collapsed. With its position no longer tenable, on the night of 9–10 June the division received permission to pull back to Saint-Lô. The 352nd Infantry Division's withdrawal created a 7.5 miles (12.1 km) hole in the German lines near the village of Caumont-l'Éventé
Caumont-l'Éventé is a commune in the Calvados department in northwestern France.-Population:-Administration:Caumont-l'Éventé is the seat of the canton of Caumont-l'Éventé, which includes 14 communes with 6373 inhabitants .-References:*...

, dubbed by the Allies the "Caumont Gap". Only the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division
17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen
The 17. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Götz von Berlichingen was a German SS panzergrenadier division which saw action on the Western Front during World War II.-Formation and training:...

's reconnaissance battalion, which had been left in place when the rest of its division was moved further west to prepare for an attack against the Americans at Carentan
Carentan is a small rural town near the north-eastern base of the French Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy in north-western France near the port city of Cherbourg-Octeville. Carentan has a population somewhat over 6,000 and is now administratively organized as a commune in the Manche department...

, remained in the area. The Germans made plans to bring up the 2nd Panzer Division to plug the gap, but on 10 June the bulk of the division was strung out between Amiens
Amiens is a city and commune in northern France, north of Paris and south-west of Lille. It is the capital of the Somme department in Picardy...

 and Alençon
Alençon is a commune in Normandy, France, capital of the Orne department. It is situated west of Paris. Alençon belongs to the intercommunality of Alençon .-History:...

 and was not expected to arrive in strength for another three days. Reluctant to commit 2nd Panzer until it was fully assembled, General Hans Freiherr von Funck
Hans Freiherr von Funck
General Hans Emil Richard Freiherr von Funck was a highly decorated Panzer General in the German army during World War II.-Biography:...

 of XLVII Panzer Corps
XLVII Panzer Corps (Germany)
The XLVII Panzer Corps was a Panzer Corps formed by Field Marshal Günther von Kluge during the Battle for Normandy, and for Operation Lüttich...

 was nevertheless persuaded to rush the division's reconnaissance battalion to Caumont with orders to hold the high ground there. In addition I SS-Panzer Corps commander Sepp Dietrich
Sepp Dietrich
Josef "Sepp" Dietrich was a German SS General. He was one of Nazi Germany's most decorated soldiers and commanded formations up to Army level during World War II. Prior to 1929 he was Adolf Hitler's chauffeur and bodyguard but received rapid promotion after his participation in the murder of...

 ordered his only reserve, the Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101, to position itself behind the Panzer Lehr and 12th SS-Panzer to cover his open left flank. Anticipating the importance the British would assign to the high ground near Villers-Bocage, the SS-Panzer Battalion 101's 2nd Company, under the command of Michael Wittmann
Michael Wittmann
Michael Wittmann was a German Waffen-SS tank commander during the Second World War. Wittmann would rise to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer and was a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross holder....

 and with only five serviceable Tiger tanks
Tiger I
Tiger I is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of...

, was positioned just south of Point 213 on the Villers-Bocage ridge. It arrived on 12 June after a five day drive from Beauvais
Beauvais is a city approximately by highway north of central Paris, in the northern French region of Picardie. It currently has a population of over 60,000 inhabitants.- History :...

On 12 June Operation Perch was altered. Conscious of the opportunity presented, Dempsey met with Lieutenant-General Gerard Bucknall commanding XXX Corps and Major-General George Erskine commanding the 7th Armoured Division, and ordered Erskine to disengage his armour from the fighting around Tilly-sur-Seulles. 7th Armoured was now to exploit the opening in the German lines, seize the town of Villers-Bocage, and advance into the Panzer-Lehr's flank. A ridge 1.6 miles (2.6 km) to the east of the town was the ultimate goal; it was believed that the appearance of British armour in Panzerlehr's rear, occupying high ground and interdicting important lines of communication, would compel the Panzer-Lehr-Division to withdraw or surrender and thus keep operations fluid. In support of the 7th Armoured's flanking manoeuvre, the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division would maintain pressure against the Panzer Lehr Division around Tilly-sur-Seulles. Simultaneously, elements of the United States V Corps would push forward. The US 1st infantry Division was tasked with wresting Caumont from its defenders and securing the heights, while the 2nd Infantry Division would attack towards Saint-Lô.

Despite the need for rapid action to take full advantage of the German vulnerability, the 7th Armoured Division was slow to redeploy and spent the morning of 12 June attempting to advance on Tilly-sur-Seulles according to its original orders. At 12:00 a meeting was held between Major-General Erskine and Brigadier Hinde, the commanding officer of the division's 22nd Armoured Brigade. Hinde was ordered to move immediately through the gap. With the 131st Infantry Brigade ready for action, the 7th Armoured Division transferred the 56th Infantry Brigade back to 50th Northumbrian. Now consisting of the 131st Infantry and 22nd Armoured Brigades, the lead elements of the 7th Armoured set off. The 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars
8th King's Royal Irish Hussars
The 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars was a cavalry regiment in the British Army, first raised in 1693. It saw service for three centuries, before being amalgamated into The Queen's Royal Irish Hussars in 1958....

—the 7th Armoured Division's armoured reconnaissance regiment—began to reconnoitre the route the brigade would take; the rest of the division departed from the village of Trungy at around 16:00. Four hours later the main body was approaching Livry after a 12 miles (19.3 km) unopposed advance, the last 6 miles (9.7 km) of which were though German-held territory. Minor resistance was encountered north of Livry when the 8th Hussars's leading Cromwell tank
Cromwell tank
Tank, Cruiser, Mk VIII, Cromwell ,The designation as the eighth Cruiser tank design, its name given for ease of reference and its General Staff specification number respectively and the related Centaur tank, were one of the most successful series of cruiser tanks fielded by Britain in the Second...

s were destroyed by an anti-tank gun of the Panzer Lehr Division's Escort Company, but riflemen and tanks were brought forward and within two hours the position was cleared.

Hoping to keep the Germans guessing as to his force's objective, on reaching the vicinity of la Mulotiere Hinde ordered a halt for the night. While the main force conducted routine maintenance, the 8th and 11th (Prince Albert's Own)
11th Hussars
The 11th Hussars was a cavalry regiment of the British Army.-History:The regiment was founded in 1715 as Colonel Philip Honeywood's Regiment of Dragoons and was known by the name of its Colonel until 1751 when it became the 11th Regiment of Dragoons...

 Hussars (the division's armoured car regiment) reconnoitred the flanks. The 11th Hussars found no resistance on the right flank and linked up with the US 1st Infantry Division near Caumont, while on the left flank the 8th Hussars located elements of the Panzer Lehr Division just under 2 miles (3.2 km) away.

Battle of Villers-Bocage

The British advance resumed at 05:30, and around three hours later the vanguard of the 22nd Armoured Brigade group
Brigade group
A brigade group is a term used primarily in armies of the Commonwealth of Nations for an ad hoc arrangement of forces and not a permanent organisation whereas, with a capital G, a Brigade Group is....

, an ad-hoc force composed of various elements of the 7th Armoured Division and based around the 22nd Armoured Brigade tactical headquarters, entered the western end of Villers-Bocage. Over the next half hour one squadron of the leading armoured regiment, the 4th County of London Yeomanry, moved through the town and occupied Point 213, an area of high ground to the east. The regimental headquarters and a company of infantry positioned themselves in the eastern end of the village and along the main road.

At approximately 09:00 the lead British tanks were ambushed by between three and five Tiger I tanks of the 2nd Company, Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101. One Tiger, under the command of Michael Wittmann
Michael Wittmann
Michael Wittmann was a German Waffen-SS tank commander during the Second World War. Wittmann would rise to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer and was a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross holder....

, entered Villers-Bocage and destroyed several tanks of the 4th County of London's regimental headquarters and reconnaissance troop. It then engaged additional British armour entering the town from the west before attempting to withdraw. However, Wittmann's Tiger was soon immobilised and he and his crew abandoned it, fleeing towards Château Orbois to report to the Panzer-Lehr-Division. In less than 15 minutes, 13–14 tanks, two anti-tank guns and 13–15 transport vehicles had been destroyed by the Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101, the vast majority being attributable to Wittmann.

During the remaining hours of the morning a British infantry battalion from the 22nd Armoured Brigade group took up defensive positions in the town. Meanwhile the troops outside the town on Point 213 had become cut off, so a force was put together to attempt to extricate them. This was unable to make any progress towards the ridge, and when additional German forces arrived near the high ground between 11:00–13:00, the trapped squadron surrendered. Further German troops were by now harassing other elements of the 22nd Armoured Brigade group along the road back to Livry.
Tanks of the Panzer Lehr soon arrived with orders to seal off the north and west exits from Villers-Bocage, but they encountered British anti-tank guns and several were disabled before the British position was silenced. The next German assault, launched by the Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101, ran into an ambush in the town centre. Some Tiger tanks and a Panzer IV
Panzer IV
The Panzerkampfwagen IV , commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a medium tank developed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz...

 were disabled by a combination of anti-tank guns, a Sherman Firefly
Sherman Firefly
The Sherman Firefly was a World War II British variant of the American Sherman tank, fitted with the powerful British 17 pounder anti-tank gun as its main weapon...

 and infantry. The damaged German tanks were later set on fire, and British and German infantry clashed throughout the afternoon. British positions were subjected to heavy artillery fire, while several German attacks were repulsed by artillery firing over open sights. One British company was overwhelmed and a platoon taken captive, and the battalion headquarters came under increasing fire.

Brigadier Hinde decided that the British position was becoming untenable and that his brigade group should be withdrawn until the morning to Point 174, an area of high ground to the west of Villers-Bocage near Amayé-sur-Seulles
Amayé-sur-Seulles is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-Population:-References:*...

. At 20:00 the withdrawal began under cover of artillery fire, and was accomplished largely unmolested.

14 June

On the morning of 14 June Montgomery abandoned the idea of a pincer attack on Caen, as he lacked "sufficient strength to act offensively on both flanks". He proposed that XXX Corps should continue its offensive alone in a "concentrated single blow"; the activity of the 51st (Highland) Division on the eastern flank was "piped down".

The 50th (Northumbrian) Division had kept attacking southwards to keep German focus on them and not the 7th Armoured Division; on 14 June, supported by its entire divisional artillery and the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

, the 50th Division launched a two-brigade attack to capture the villages of la Senaudière, la Belle Epine, Lingèvres

 and Verrières
Verrières, Orne
Verrières, Orne is a commune in the Orne department in north-western France.-References:*...

. Dependent on the success of these offensives, a further attack would then be mounted to capture the village of Hottot-les-Bagues
-External links:***...

. To prepare the way, a reconnaissance in force was mounted the preceding evening; the panzergrenadier
is a German term for motorised or mechanized infantry, as introduced during World War II. It is used in the armies of Austria, Chile, Germany and Switzerland.-Forerunners:...

s of the Panzer-Lehr-Division inflicted heavy losses upon the British. Panzerlehr's losses are unknown, although one tank was confirmed destroyed.

The main assault began at 10:15 the next morning when the 151st (Durham) Infantry Brigade, supported by tanks of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards
4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards
The 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards was a cavalry regiment of the British Army from 1922 to 1992.It was formed in India in 1922 by the amalgamation of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards and 7th Dragoon Guards , as the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards; it gained the distinction Royal in 1935...

, advanced towards Lingèvres and Verrières. The German defenders held their fire until the British were less than 150 yards away and it took five hours of fighting before the 6th Durham Light Infantry
Durham Light Infantry
The Durham Light Infantry was an infantry regiment of the British Army from 1881 to 1968. It was formed by the amalgamation of the 68th Regiment of Foot and the 106th Regiment of Foot along with the militia and rifle volunteers of County Durham...

 (DLI), with heavy artillery support, cleared the German front line positions. Two companies were pushed forward and captured Verrières, which was found to be unoccupied but further advances were checked by infantry and tanks.

The 9th DLI were also caught by heavy German machine gun fire and were forced to commit their reserve companies to break through the German front line. Between noon and 13:30 the battalion captured Lingèvres and positioned anti-tank guns within the village, although most of these were put out of action by the first German counterattack. Two Panther
Panther tank
Panther is the common name of a medium tank fielded by Nazi Germany in World War II that served from mid-1943 to the end of the European war in 1945. It was intended as a counter to the T-34, and to replace the Panzer III and Panzer IV; while never replacing the latter, it served alongside it as...

 tanks were then spotted approaching the village by Sergeant Wilfred Harris, commanding a Sherman Firefly. Harris engaged the first at a range of 400 yards, destroying it and disabled the second. While Harris ordered his tank into an alternative firing position, a tank-hunting party led by Major John Mogg the acting battalion commander, finished off the damaged Panther. Further tank-hunting parties drove off another Panther, a British M4 Sherman
M4 Sherman
The M4 Sherman, formally Medium Tank, M4, was the primary tank used by the United States during World War II. Thousands were also distributed to the Allies, including the British Commonwealth and Soviet armies, via lend-lease...

 was destroyed and a third Panther was knocked out by a Sherman. Three more Panthers responded by moving towards the village; Harris destroyed the lead vehicle before it entered the village and the other two within its bounds, although one did manage to reach the centre of Lingèvres before the crew bailed out.

After heavy fighting the 231st Infantry Brigade was able to reach all of its objectives by nightfall and linked up with the 151st Infantry Brigade. One officer in the 6th DLI stated that the attack was the most successful carried out by the battalion during the course of the operation; in all nine German tanks were knocked out during the course of the day, although the DLI had suffered up to 353 casualties. Nonetheless the division had been unable to break through the Panzerlehr's defences.

Battle of the island

With the British withdrawal from Villers-Bocage complete, on 14 June the group formed an all round defensive position; a "brigade box". The location of this position is disputed by historians. Carlo D'Este states it was between Amayé-sur-Seulles and Tracy-Bocage

, around Hill 174. Dan Taylor locates the box around the brigade's tactical headquarters positioned on Hill 174 and presents a map showing the brigade mostly to the south of the village of Amayé-sur-Seulles; a position supported by French historian Henrie Marie. George Forty places the box to the north of Tracy-Bocage, around the hamlet of St-Germain and draws on a report by the 22nd Armoured Brigade group's commanding officer who states the position was east of Amayé-sur-Seulles and included St-Germain. The fighting that followed on 14 June is known as 'The Battle of the island', or 'Island Position', this name deriving from the 22nd Armoured Brigade's after action report. Other names given to the action include 'The Battle of the Brigade Box' and 'The Battle of Amayé-sur-Seulles'. Forty and Taylor agree that the box was less than 2 square kilometre (0.77220431718507 sq mi) in area.

The Panzer-Lehr-Division had moved so that it was able to defend against the renewed assaults by the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and attack the 7th Armoured Division's penetration; attacks that would be supported by the 1st Company, Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101. The 2nd Panzer Division's reconnaissance battalion, with other small infantry units had also arrayed to face the brigade box, although the division's panzer regiment would play no part in the battle as it had yet to reach the front.

By now the 131st Infantry Brigade, composed of an infantry battalion and armoured regiment, had moved up to Livry; throughout the morning of 14 June the 131st Brigade kept open the road from the brigade box to the Livry–Briquessarrd area, while Hawker Typhoon
Hawker Typhoon
The Hawker Typhoon was a British single-seat fighter-bomber, produced by Hawker Aircraft. While the Typhoon was designed to be a medium-high altitude interceptor, and a direct replacement for the Hawker Hurricane, several design problems were encountered, and the Typhoon never completely satisfied...

 fighter bombers launched attacks against German positions near the box. German infantry spotted moving towards the British lines were subjected to heavy allied artillery fire, breaking up their initial attack but around 09:00 more infantry closed in on the Brigade box. Too close this time for artillery concentrations to be called in, fighting erupted with a British platoon being overrun. A counterattack with tanks and infantry repelled the Germans and restored the position but the Germans then subjected the British to harassing sniping fire, mortar bombardments and at 14:00 heavy artillery fire. At 19:00 a major two-pronged assault, supported by a long artillery bombardment and tanks, struck the brigade box from the north and south. This penetrated the British lines and closed in on the brigade headquarters before being driven back, with fighting dying down around 22:30.

Although confident the position could be held, the inability of 50th Northumbrian to break through Panzerlehr and relieve the 7th Armoured Division prompted the decision to withdraw the brigade group and straighten the front line. The withdrawal, codenamed Operation Aniseed, began just after midnight. Noise cover was provided by an RAF bombing raid on Aunay-sur-Odon
Aunay-sur-Odon is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-Population:-Twin towns:* Holsworthy since 1976....

 and Evrecy that destroyed one Tiger tank and put a further three out of action, inflicting 29 casualties. Harassing artillery fire was directed to the north and south of the withdrawal route but the Germans did little to intervene.

An estimated 700–800 casualties were inflicted upon the Germans during the battle and between eight and 20 tanks destroyed including several Tigers. British casualties were reported as light, including the loss of only three tanks. Michael Reynolds disputes the reported German casualty figures, calling them "exaggerated". Brigadier Hinde, in his official after-action report, wrote "It is questionable whether the expenditure of artillery and small arms ammunition was justified by the scale of the enemy's efforts".


Over the following days fighting went back and forth between 50th Northumbrian and Panzerlehr. By 15 June XXX Corps claimed to have destroyed at least 70 German tanks, and on 18 June British infantry once again entered Tilly-sur-Seulles. The town was secured the following day against light opposition; it had changed hands 23 times before its final liberation.

The same day an attack was launched towards Hottot-les-Bagues. Facing determined resistance from Panzerlehr, British infantry gained a foothold in the village but were soon forced out by German counterattacks supported by tanks. The British succeeded in retaking the village and holding it against further German assaults, but with insufficient numbers to secure their position they withdrew during the night, and Hottot-les-Bagues was reoccupied by panzergrenadiers.

The 7th Armoured Division was pulled back to be bolstered by the 33rd Armoured Brigade
33rd Armoured Brigade (United Kingdom)
The 33rd Armoured Brigade was a British Army brigade active in 1944-45, in the 1970s, and in 1980-92.- Normandy :The brigade was formed in the UK on 17 March 1944 by re-designating of the 33rd Tank Brigade. The brigade took part in the Normandy campaign and landed on Gold Beach on 6 June 1944...

, which was in the process of landing and forming up within the British beachhead. It was planned that the reinforced division would renew its assault, but on 19 June a severe storm descended upon the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 causing widespread disruption to the over-the-beach supply operations, and further offensives were abandoned.

Battle honours

The British and Commonwealth system of battle honours recognised participation in the expansion of the bridgehead during the period of Operation Perch in 1956, 1957 and in 1958. One unit was awarded the honour Port En Bessin, one formation the honour Sully, four units the honour Breville, and 11 regiments the honour Villers-Bocage. Additionally for participating in the expansion of the bridgehead between14–19 June ten units were awarded the honour Tilly Sur Seulles.


While casualty figures are not available for this specific operation by the end of June the Panzer-Lehr-Division had suffered 2,972 casualties and reported the loss of 51 tanks and assault guns, additionally 82 halftracks and 294 other vehicles had been lost. By 16 June the 12th SS Panzer Division had reported 1,417 casualties and by 26 June the division had lost 41 tanks. From the beginning of the month till 16 June the 21st Panzer Division suffered 1,864 casualties. Prior to the invasion the division had 112 tanks however by 16 June the division reported only 85 combat ready tanks, with an unknown number under repair. During Operation Perch the Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101 suffered 27 casualties and by 16 June the battalion had only 15 operational tanks; they had lost nine tanks destroyed and a further 21 were under various repairs.

By the end of June the 7th Armoured Division had suffered 1,149 casualties and had lost at least 38 tanks during the Operation Perch period. Likewise by the end of the month 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division had suffered 4,476 casualties.


The right hook

Whose idea it was to outflank the Panzer-Lehr-Division through the gap in the German lines has proved difficult to establish. Historian George Forty states that "although it was clearly Monty's final decision to send the 'Desert Rats' right flanking, it is not entirely clear whose idea it actually was to undertake the 'right hook'." Forty then quotes 7th Armoured Division commander George Erskine, who claims both that the idea originated with him, and that he believes the manoeuvre could have been conducted 24 hours earlier. That the flanking move could have been launched earlier is supported by John Buckley. Dan Taylor goes further, suggesting that although Gerard Bucknall of XXX Corps knew about the gap for 24 hours, he was restrained from exploiting it by Second Army commander Miles Dempsey, who was still focused at that time on Operation Wild Oats. The official campaign historian, L.F. Ellis, states that Bucknall orchestrated the move but only after consulting with Dempsey. Historian Carlo D'Este writes "while the idea had most certainly been under consideration at 30 Corps, the problem was that Bucknall had done absolutely nothing to implement it until Dempsey arrived on the scene... [and] spurred the corps commander to action". Consensus opinion among historians appears to support Dempsey as the instigator, both in developing the plan for the right hook and ordering its execution.


The failure of the operation led Dempsey to write shortly afterwards that there was "no chance now of a snap operation with airborne troops either to seize Caen or to deepen the bridgehead on XXX Corps front. It is clear now that Caen can be taken only by set-piece assault and we do not have the men or ammunition for that at this time". After the war he remarked "this attack by 7th Armoured Division should have succeeded. My feeling that Bucknall and Erskine would have to go started with that failure ... the whole handling of that battle was a disgrace. Their decision to withdraw [from Villers-Bocage] was done by the corps commander and Erskine." Although D'Este calls Dempsey's comments "excessively harsh", historians generally support them, suggesting that a great opportunity to swiftly capture Caen was squandered by Bucknall. Fully supporting Dempsey, John Buckley claims that Bucknall was unprepared to support the attack once problems developed and that Erskine was not suited to the task at hand. Major Ellis is somewhat less critical, calling the immediate result of the fighting "disappointing" but stating that with Panzerlehr's stubborn resistance and the unexpected arrival of the 2nd Panzer Division, the 7th Armoured Division "could hardly have achieved full success". However this view is refuted by Michael Reynolds, who notes "2nd Panzer's tanks were nowhere near Villers-Bocage at this time".

Hubert Meyer claims the main reason for the failure of Perch was the inability of the 50th Division and its supporting armour to make head way against the Panzer-Lehr-Division, the collapse of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Divisions attack and the speedy counterattack launched by the lead elements of the 2nd Panzer Division. A further reason given for the operation's failure is that insufficient infantry was allotted to the offensive. Michael Reynolds notes that two infantry battalions and most of the 7th Armoured Division's 1st Rifle Brigade were uncommitted throughout 13 June. He further identifies three unemployed infantry brigades that could have been committed to the right hook with 7th Armoured when it went into action; he blames Bucknall for failing to concentrate enough force at the right place and the right time. This analysis is supported by D'Este, although Bucknall defended his decision claiming "49 [Division] ... [had] no recent battle experience and it was important to launch them nicely into their first fighting in a properly coordinated battle, and not bundle them helter-skelter into hot armoured scrapping like that around V[illers]-B[ocage] and Amaye." According to John Buckley, the most crucial factor in the operation's failure was a corresponding failure at the command level. Historian Terry Copp notes that Miles Dempsey continued to underestimate the German strength and commitment to defending the ground they held while Mungo Melvin states that Dempsey and the Second Army displayed weakness in handling its subordinate formations; not giving their subordinates definite tasks, clear intentions and allowing the subordinate formations the liberty to arrange how they would be carried out (which would appear to be a criticism of 'mission command').

Chester Wilmot casts a different light on the result of Operation Perch, calling it a strategic success. "By the premature commitment of his armour, Rommel had delayed the British advance, but in the process he had played into Montgomery's hands for, once the panzer divisions were locked into battle with Second Army, they could not be used for their proper offensive task." Historian Stephen Badsey notes that Montgomery’s message to Bradley, “Caen is the key to Cherbourg”, held much truth; the British threat of a breakout past Caen immobilised the German armoured divisions forcing them remain committed on the British front and unable to counterattack the Americans. Badsey states that Hitler’s interference in the campaign saved Rommel's military reputation; due to the unsuitability of the Cotentin for armoured operations, the difficulties involved in moving and supplying such a redeployment and the strength of the Anglo-Canadian force would have led to a more rapid and complete defeat of the German army in Normandy. Badsey also notes that Hitler’s order on 12 June set the attritional agenda for the rest of the campaign.

External links

Website's page on the fighting at Tilly-sur-Seulles, information on the museum and the British cemetery. Website's page on the division's activities in Normandy.
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