Operation EPSOM & Hill 112
Operation EPSOM revisited
So, waking up to a dull & overcast morning (as 5th June was, last year), we set off to follow one of the Tours in the BattleZone Normandy book on Operation EPSOM written by Lloyd Clark.
Battlezone Normandy Books
The BattleZone Normandy books were released in 2004 and are an absolute “must have” if you’re touring in the areas which they cover. They are split into for sections… part one is a brief introduction & part 4 provides some suggestions for further research “on your return”. The “meat” of the books, however, is in parts two and three
Part two covers, in chronological order, the history of the event that is the subject of the book… whether that be one of the landing beaches or, as in this case, a later operation
Part three consists of 4 or 5 Battlefield tours that are not only outlined in great detail (and are therefore very easy to follow), but add additional history detail. In addition, whilst, generally speaking, the maps used in part 2 are copies of the WW2 maps actually used by the Allies, those in part 3 are modern 1:25,000 maps and so are easily followed on today’s roads. What’s more the tours tell you exactly where to stand & what to look for (usually with photographs – both contemporary and modern)
Tour 1 following events of 26th June 1944
The first point that we aimed for was Bretteville l’Orgueilleuse… but of course, being us, it wasn’t that straightforward!! Mind you, contrary to normal practice, we didn’t get lost, either!! In fact, we initially headed to a small village called CULLY. This was because this was the place near where Cpl Tom Caldwell was captured. We don’t know exactly where, but his PoW questionnaire states that he was captured on July 5th 1944 in Normandy (near Cully).
Having visited the village (not much to see, but quite pretty), we continued for a short way towards Bretteville, before a further detour to Rots.
On the way, we stopped by a wheatfield for a quick photo… one thing that you regularly read about is the height of the wheat that the soldiers had to walk through… modern wheat has been changed so that more energy is spent in growing the “ears” rather than in adding height, but the photo gives an impression of what it may have been like… ‘though, of course, the wheatfields have now been cleared (hopefully!) of all of their mines!
This image from the Imperial War Museum shows the difference in the height of the corn & shows soldiers of 6th Bn Royal Scots Fusiliers (Tom Caldwell’s regiment) advancing during Operation EPSOM
Back on track
OK, having had our planned detour, we headed back towards Bretteville and then on to “Stand A1” of the tour at Norrey-en-Bessin where we had our “it’s behind you” Panto moment… we parked at the church (rebuilt after the war) and started looking for the Canadian Memorial to the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment and the Regina Rifles Regiment of 3rd Canadian Infantry Division which liberated the village.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it, so we turned around to head back to the car & bang! there it was… sneaked up on us, it did!!
So, out of the village for a short distance & parking on the side of the road allowed us to take an almost exact photograph to the one that’s on page 132 of the book that we were following… “The 6th RSF sunken lane”. As these events happened back in June 1944, it is highly likely that Tom Caldwell would have been involved in this action
This is one of those places that highlights some of the good and bad points of following a battlefield tour and trying to imagine how things would have looked “back then”… the “good” is the fact that the church has never been rebuilt (there is a new one further into the village) and stands as a reminder to the ferocity of the battle that took place for control of the village… the “bad” are the new houses being built & expanding the size of the village changing it’s outline & making comparisons back to 1944 more and more difficult… this is especially noticable further along our tour where the original village of Cheux has merged with La Gaule and le Haut du Bosq to create an enlarged (and elongated) modern Cheux
Le Haut du Bosq
We passed through Cheux (having had more of a look around last year in the company of Albert Figg – a veteran of 112 Field Artillery Regiment – who we would again, soon be meeting) and moved on to Le Haut du Bosq where, again, we took the opportunity for a photcall matching the one in the book… because we could… looking back towards the startline of Operation EPSOM
Following the road up the hill, we then recognised the crossroads that we had arrived at – in the centre of the “Rauray Spur”… a place that we’d found last year (‘though without books or maps!)
On 1st July, 1944, as Operation EPSOM was winding down, the German II Panzer Corps (consisting of 9th & 10th SS Panzer Divisions with additional attached units) attempted to cut through what was known as the “Scottish Corridor” (due to many of the units involved in EPSOM being Scottish). Standing in their way at Rauray was the 1st Battalion Tyneside Scottish regiment; a fierce battle ensued! Kevin Baverstock has written an excellent book of this, taking you through the battle, hour by hour…
.. unfortunately, we couldn’t stay to have a more detailed look around the area as a quick look at our watches told us that if we didn’t get a move on, we’d be late for our rendevouz on Hill 112 with Albert Figg – a veteran of the battle to take the feature. We were also meeting up with his daughter Annette & Nigel Hay of Milweb before heading down into the village of Evrecy – a repeat of last year’s meeting (also on the 5th June!)
Hill 113 & the Royal Welch Fusiliers
Just out of Evrecy, is a small memorial to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers who were attacking the feature of Hill 113 (like 112, a rise in the ground) & then onwards to Mondeville. Even with a clear day and binoculars (and no shells coming in) it was difficult to see their final objective, so we worked out where it was on the map & drove there & then looked back, worked out where we were and then arriving back at the memorial could find the “target”… but still not easy to do… heaven knows what it must have been like back in 1944!
One good thing came from this, however, understanding the real benefit of having map, compass and binoculars when touring battlefields; they make such a difference.
Also, looking at the Battlefield from “The other side of the Hill” (i.e. the German viewpoint), the importance of Hill 112 was very obvious… it’s understandable why the Germans were so reluctant to let it go…
And on to Estry
For the next two nights, we were staying (as previously) with Tony & Jill Stansfield in their wonderful B&B in Estry…
Meedless to say that we couldn’t find it first time… we’re blaming the fact that we were in bright sunshine! And the fact that we’re sure that they keep moving it! But, finally, we arrived (note to self for next year: it’s the second turning to Le Pont Alliere!!)
But, talk about a welcome… wine in the garden followed by a superb meal cooked by Jill, excellent wine & Calvados to finish & even better conversation