Normandy June 2015 – Day#05 – Thursday 4th June – part 1

I’ve split this day into two posts as we got through a lot!

Another day, another battlefield tour!

Or rather a continuation of yesterday’s as we’d only really covered half of the area of Operation GOODWOOD.

This time, it was direct to the village of Soliers where, just before we got into the village, over to our right we could see the large embankment of what was the major railway running into Caen that the tanks of 3rd Royal Tank Regiment went behind as recounted yesterday.

Then it was into Bourguébus and along the ridge, looking northwards towards the Allied lines from where Operation GOODWOOD had started from and south, to the final ridgeline, from where German reinforcements from 1st SS Panzer Division counter attacked during the afternoon of 18th July 1944.

Looking south it is fairly easy to spot the concave shape to the slope up to the ridge which gave the Germans such an advantage with their long range (especially compared to the British) guns and, again, in the distance, the remaining cooling tower of the Colombelles Steel factory from whose towers, German observers were able to overview the whole battlefield.

Following the tour past the unusual-shaped church in Frénouville, with its memorial plaques we took a slight detour to the hamlets of le Poirier (where you could see the repairs to battle-damaged buildings) and Four on the way back in the direction of Soliers to take a look at the spot, identified by Ian Daglish, as the place where 2nd Battalion Fife & Forfar Yeomanry got as far south as any unit involved in the operation.

By using a combination of maps & photographs from Ian’s Over The Battlefield: Operation GOODWOOD book, we were, despite changes in the past 70 years, able to identify the location with reasonable certainty.

von Luck’s 88’s

So, then back to the tour and into the town of Cagny with a brief visit to the church with its various memorials, before a second visit to “von Luck’s 88’s” and, having re-read the books, a better identification of their location, together with a re-appraisal of the location of where two German Tiger tanks had been destroyed by anti-tank gun fire – the finding of a small piece of what appears to be substantial pipework (perhaps from a cooling or fuel system) reinforcing this – ‘though, to be fair, a closer look at the maps & aerial photographs did help!!

John Gorman and “Ballyragget”

Once again taking advantage of the cross country capability of my car, we followed the route taken by Lieutenant John Gorman of the Irish Guards in his Sherman tank “Ballyragget” who, with the rest of his regiment having passed the farm of le Prieuré, Gorman then got bogged down (& left behind) in the boggy ground by the Ruisseau de Cagny – a small stream… fortunately for us, there’s a bridge!

Anyway, he managed to get “de-bogged” & followed the tracks of his unit when, having crested the slope and gone round the end of a hedge was faced with a German King Tiger tank… oops!

The King Tiger was one of the largest armoured vehicles that the Germans produced and sent into action during the war (& certainly its largest tank) and, size wise, could, I guess be compared to Gorman’s Sherman tank in the same way as my Landrover could be compared to a mini.. What’s more the gun of the German tank was far more powerful and it’s armour far thicker than that of the Sherman.

Gorman’s gunner fired only to see his first shell bounce off at almost point-blank range!

Then the Sherman’s gun jammed… double oops!

What followed next earned Gorman the Military Cross for his actions, while his driver, Lance-Corporal James Baron, won the Military Medal… realising that his tank wouldn’t survive the attention of the Tiger’s gun, he ordered his driver to ram the German, locking them together… the crews then abandoned both tanks, with Gorman going off to find a Sherman Firefly (with a 17pdr gun – a much better proposition when facing large German tanks) who’s commander had been killed. He then brought this back & used it’s gun to destroy both the German tank and his own (to prevent it falling into German hands)

John Gorman's Sherman tank Ballyragget, and the Tiger II tank of 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion that it knocked out by ramming, July 1944

John Gorman’s Sherman tank Ballyragget, and the Tiger II tank of 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion that it knocked out by ramming, July 1944

We followed the track to the road, turned left to have a look at the Guards’ memorial which also refers to Gorman’s destroying of the first King (or Royal) Tiger in Normandy, and then crossed the new motorway to the site of the ramming.

We then proceeded on our way through Émiéville to Gouwy where we stopped to try to find some examples of the result of the massive aerial bombardment that proceeded Operation GOODWOOD.

We did find some examples, but as it was very bright & sunny & they were in a tree-lined hedge, they’re very difficult to spot; however, looking on Google Earth, it’s still possible to see the dark patches of almost circular bomb craters in the ground.

A visit round the outside of Manneville Haras (a stud farm) allowed us to see the location of the base for the Tiger Tanks two of which were knocked out as we had previously seen. During the aerial bombing, at least one Tiger (weighing around 56 tons) was overturned by the bombs that were dropped – no wonder you can still see their marks! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/503rd_Heavy_Panzer_Battalion#/media/File:The_Campaign_in_Normandy_1944_B8032.jpg

So, a stop for a sandwich and beer saw us refreshed and ready for a trip to the seaside!

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