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Operation Bluecoat

Normandy Bocage

Operation Bluecoat was an attack by the British Army during the Battle of Normandy, lasting from 30 July until 7 August 1944, during the Second World War. The geographical objectives of the attack, launched by VIII Corps and XXX Corps of the British Second Army, were to secure the road junction of Vire and the high ground of Mont Pinçon. Operationally, the attack was made to support the success of Operation Cobra by the first US Army as it broke out on the western flank of the Normandy beachhead and tactically to exploit the withdrawal of the 2nd Panzer Division from a quiet area for Operation Lüttich a counter-offensive against the Americans.

Background

From 18–20 July, the British Second Army conducted Operation Goodwood in a southerly direction, south-east of Caen on the eastern flank of the Allied beachhead, which had forced the Germans to keep the bulk of their armoured units in the east around Caen. After Goodwood, Ultra revealed that the Germans planned to move the 21st Panzer Division out of the line, in preparation to moving it to the west (American) sector of the front. On 25 July, after a false start the day before, the United States First Army began Operation Cobra.

Prelude

Allied offensive preparations

The inter-army boundary between the British right flank and the US First Army was moved, with British forces taking over a sector previously manned by the US V Corps, against which were lightly armed German infantry, which gave an opportunity for a new operation to keep tying down German armour. The VIII Corps headquarters and the 7th, 11th and Guards Armoured divisions of the British Second Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Miles Dempsey, were moved westwards toward Caumont on the western flank of British XXX Corps, to relieve the US V Corps. Dempsey planned to attack on 2 August but the speed of events forced him to advance the date.

German defensive preparations

From 21 July the 2nd Panzer Division had been withdrawn from the area south of Caumont and relieved by the 326th Division, which took over a front from the east of Villers-Bocage, next to the 276th Volksgrenadier Division, westwards to the Drôme river, the boundary between the LXXIV Korps of Panzergruppe West and the German 7th Army. The 326th Division, south and east of Caumont, was up to strength and took over a large number of field defences and camouflaged firing positions, behind extensive minefields in the ideal defensive terrain of the Suisse Normande bocage.

Operation Bluecoat: Cromwell tanks of the 7th Armoured Division move up in the morning of 30 July 1944

Plan

The British XXX Corps was to lead the attack with the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division to advance to the top of Bois du Homme (Point 361). The left flank was to be protected by the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and the 7th Armoured Division was in reserve. On the right the western flank of XXX Corps was to be protected by the VIII Corps, with the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division attacking south from Caumont and the 11th Armoured Division attacking cross-country further west, ready to exploit a German collapse by advancing towards Petit Aunay, west of Saint-Martin-des-Besaces. A raid by over 1,000 bombers in preference to a preliminary artillery barrage was to prepare the way for the attack.

Battle

Operations Cobra and Bluecoat

Visibility was poor but the bombers accurately placed of bombs. The damage to German equipment was slight, partly because there was little of it in the target areas and because the 43rd and 50th divisions were held just beyond the start line, well north of the target areas in their sector. The advance of the left flank units of the 11th Armoured Division through "Area A" made rapid progress. Many British units were held up by minefields, sunken roads, thick hedges and steep gullies but in the centre the attackers gained .

On 31 July, the 11th Armoured Division of VIII Corps exploited a German inter–army boundary weakness, when they discovered an undefended bridge ("Dickie's Bridge") behind the German front, over the River Souleuvre. Reinforcing the opportunity quickly with Cromwell tanks followed by further support units, they broke up the first German armoured units sent to counter-attack.

St-Martin-des-Besaces (Map commune FR insee code 14629)

British forces advanced to about from Vire by 2 August, which was on the American side of the inter-army boundary. There was confusion as to who had the rights to use certain roads and the British attack was restricted and diverted south-east. The 7th Army was able to reinforce the town with troops from the 3rd Parachute Division, which was being forced south by the US V Corps and to move elements of the 9th SS Panzer Division south-west to close the gap between the 7th Army and Panzergruppe West .

The British advance was held up by these reinforcements. VIII Corps also had to protect its eastern flank, because XXX Corps had not kept up the same rate of advance. The commander of XXX Corps, Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, a veteran of North Africa replaced Bucknall on 4 August. The 2nd Army advance was brought to a temporary halt on 4 August. Vire fell to an American night attack by the 116th Regiment of the US 29th Division against the defenders of the 363rd Division on 6 August. On the same day, the 43rd (Wessex) Division and tanks of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars captured Mont Pinçon.

Aftermath

Analysis

Vire area (Map commune FR insee code 14762)

Operation Bluecoat kept German armoured units fixed on the British eastern front and continued the wearing down of the strength of German armoured formations in the area. The breakthrough in the centre of the Allied front surprised the Germans, when they were distracted by the Allied attacks at both ends of the Normandy bridgehead. By the time of the American breakout at Avranches, there was little to no reserve strength left for Operation Luttich, the German counter-offensive, which had been defeated by 12 August, leaving the 7th Army with not choice but to retire rapidly east of the Orne river, followed by a rearguard by all the remaining armoured and motorised units, to allow time for the surviving infantry to reach the Seine. After the first stage of the withdrawal beyond the Orne, the manoeuvre collapsed for a lack of fuel, Allied air attacks and the constant pressure of the Allied armies and culminated in the encirclement of many German forces in the Falaise pocket.

Casualties

During Bluecoat and later operations in Normandy the VIII Corps had 5,114 casualties.

Subsequent operations

Operation Grouse

With news from the American sector by 9 August that Operation Lüttich, the German counter-offensive from Mortain, had been defeated, O'Connor planned a new attack, intended to pin down the German defenders opposite VIII Corps or precipitate a collapse. The 3rd Division would advance around Vire and the Guards Armoured Division was to advance down Perrier Ridge, VIII Corps establishing itself on high ground between Tinchebray and Condé-sur-Noireau around Mont de Cerisi, about south-east of Vire. A three-phase attack was planned by the Guards Armoured Division and the attached 6th Guards Tank Brigade to begin on 11 August but the day dawned with a dense mist, which prevented the preliminary bombing and disorganised the tank-infantry attack. German defensive fire restricted the advance on the eastern flank to . In the centre, three Panthers were spotted in a farm yard at le Haut Perrier and ambushed, two being knocked out and

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