(Volume 26 Issue 6)
By Vincent J. Curtis
In the pursuit to Mons, the Canadian Corps employed an embryonic form of blitzkrieg. Infantry and tanks, supported by artillery, would advance in the morning. Overhead, allied aircraft would bomb and strafe exposed German positions in the rear. The advance would go for 7,000 yards and then stall, having moved beyond range of supporting artillery and being well within range of German guns.
The Germans learned from defeat, but had the Canadian commanders of World War II upped their game? It seems not. Hans von Luck, in his book Panzer Commander, described the British tactical method in Operation Goodwood (18/19 July 1944): “As almost always with the British, they carried out their tank attacks unaccompanied by infantry, as a result, they were unable to eliminate at once any little anti-tank nests that were lying well camouflaged in woodland or behind hedges. The main attack broke down under our defensive fire.”
Let’s return to our hero of last month, Lieutenant William F. McCormick, 1st Hussars. In an article published in the Waterloo Region Record on June 8, 2011, McCormick recounted the events of June 11, 1944. “Ordered into action, McCormick arrives to a terrible scene: a field of Sherman tanks burning quietly with no enemy in sight…An order crackles over the radio: Advance. The order is repeated, Advance. Then a new request, “Who will volunteer to advance?” McCormick orders his tanks onto the battlefield…McCormick spies enemy soldiers sitting calmly by their trenches. They look like they’re watching a sports event… He opens fire on them and advances into the wheat field. Wham! The tank to the left of him is hit…Wham! A shell explodes into the tank on his right. McCormick thinks the fire is coming from his right flank. Before he can find a target, a shell explodes into his tank…[The 12th SS] destroyed 37 tanks and damaged 13 others.” No infantry screen for the tanks there, either. New methods were needed in a hurry.
Operation Windsor was conducted to capture Carpiquet village and airfield, both D-Day objectives that McCormick himself had in his grasp. Carpiquet stood between the Canadian 3rd Division and Caen. Major General Rod Keller turned the planning over to Brigadier K.G. Blackader commander of the 8th Canadian infantry brigade (Queens’ Own Rifles, Chaudière, North Shores). The 8th would be reinforced with an attached battalion (the Royal Winnipeg Rifles) and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. (Fort Garry Horse, Sherbrooke Fusiliers, Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, elements of 79th Armoured Div).
The plan was for a set-piece battle. The infantry would advance behind a creeping barrage, supported by tanks on both flanks. In the air, two squadrons of Hawker Typhoons would provide tactical air support.
Proceeding north to south: a diversionary attack by the Sherbrooke Fusiliers was made against Francqueville. The main attack against Carpiquet village was made by the North Shores and Chaudière. The Queen’s Own were to pass through and take the airport control buildings. The RWR supported by Fort Garry Horse would seize the airfield hangers south of the village. The approach by the RWR did not go well. Infantry were subjected to unsuppressed German mortar fire as they advanced across open ground towards the airfield and took fire also from the south bank of the Odon River. Late in the day, the depleted RWR reached the airfield hangers but were unable to dislodge the German defenders. The Fort Garry Horse encountered a battlegroup of Panther tanks and were “overwhelmed.” The RWR were ordered to withdraw under cover of darkness, leaving the airfield in German hands.
Next day, the Germans made three counter-attacks against Carpiquet village, and were repulsed with heavy losses.
Two more battalions behind the RWR would have taken the airfield. But it was clear that new combined arms methods were needed, and new methods for the timely suppression of enemy defensive fires had to be learned.