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. This is the one 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. Then looking 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. This gave the Germans such an advantage with their long range guns. Again, in the distance, we could see the remaining cooling tower of the Colombelles Steel factory. From that, and its fellow towers, German observers were able to overview the whole battlefield.
Following the tour we passed 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. To look at the spot, identified by Ian Daglish as where 2nd Battalion Fife & Forfar Yeomanry got to. This being as far south as any unit involved in the operation achieved.
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. Where we briefly visited the church with its various memorials. There then followed a second visit to “von Luck’s 88’s” having re-read the books. This allowed us to make a better identification of their location. We also re-appraised the location of where the two German Tiger tanks had been destroyed by anti-tank gun fire. At the point identified we found a small piece of what appears to be substantial pipework (perhaps from a cooling or fuel system) to reinforce this. Although, to be fair, a closer look at the maps & aerial photographs did help!!
John Gorman and “Ballyragget”
Once again we took advantage of the cross country capability of my car. To follow the route taken by Lieutenant John Gorman of the Irish Guards in his Sherman tank “Ballyragget”. With the rest of his regiment having passed the farm of le Prieuré, Gorman then got bogged down. He was 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. Having crested the slope and gone round the end of a hedge he 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. It was certainly its largest tank. Size wise, it 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!
A ram, a King Tiger and a firefly
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. Gorman went off and found a Sherman Firefly who’s commander had been killed. With a 17pdr gun this was a much better proposition when facing large German tanks. 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).
We followed the track to the road. Then turned left to have a look at the Guards’ memorial which refers to Gorman destroying of the first King (or Royal) Tiger in Normandy. We then crossed the new motorway to view the site of the ramming.
After that we proceeded through Émiéville to Gouwy where we stopped. There we hoped 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. On the ground, 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. 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!
So, we stopped for a sandwich and beer to refresh ourselves, in readiness for a trip to the seaside!