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Operation Martlet
Part of Battle for Caen
Date25 June - 1 July 1944
LocationOdon Valley, France
Result Allied tactical victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom  Germany
Commanders and leaders
Gerard Bucknall
Evelyn Barker
Kurt Meyer
Otto Weidinger
Strength
49th (West Riding) Infantry Division:
Approx 18,000 [1]
12th SS Panzer Division: Approx 18-20,000 [2]
Kampfgruppe Weidinger: Unknown[citation needed]
Casualties and losses
Unknown[citation needed] Unknown

Operation Martlet (referred to as Operation Dauntless in the British campaign official history)[3] was the name given to the diversionary operation undertaken on 25 June 1944 by the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, of XXX Corps, to support Operation Epsom; the assault by the VIII Corps into the Odon Valley. The Division's role was to provide flank security for the advancing VIII Corps and to ward off any counter-attacks. It was its first combat operation of the war.[4]

The operation failed to achieve its objectives by the end of 25 June, resulting in further heavy fighting over the following days as the 49th Division continued pushing southwards. This fighting can be seen to form part of Operation Epsom.[citation needed] The battle finally drew to a close on 1 July, when the division saw off a strong attack by elements of 2nd SS Panzer Division.

Planning[]

During Epsom, VIII Corps would be endangered on its right flank from the Rauray Spur, a ridge that overlooked the line of advance of 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division. The spur, and the villages on and near it (Rauray, Fontenay-le-Pesnel, Tessel-Bretteville, Juvigny) would have to be taken in order to ensure that the flank of this division was not endangered in the attack.[5] 49th Division was assigned the task of clearing the spur.

The division was to advance on a two-brigade front, its first objective being Fontenay-le-Pesnel, the last being Rauray. The 146th Infantry Brigade and the 147th Infantry Brigade were the two leading brigades, with the 70th Infantry Brigade in reserve.[6] It was also to have the support of tanks from the 8th Armoured Brigade.

Opposing the British were the 3rd Battalion, 26th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment and elements from the 12th SS Panzer Regiment of 12th SS Panzer Division, stationed on and around the spur. Both had seen heavy fighting in the preceding weeks and were well dug-in.[7]

Martlet - 25 June 1944[]

British artillery crew set down a barrage in Normandy.

At 0415 hours on the morning of 25 June, Operation Martlet commenced with a heavy artillery bombardment just ahead of the start line of the 49th Division.[8] At 0500 this bombardment lifted and started to creep forward and the men began to follow it. By now, a thick ground mist had developed, severely hindering the visibility of the advancing troops. The battalions became lost.[9] The Hallamshire Battalion of 146th Infantry Brigade found itself on the Fontenay-Tessel Bretteville road, from where it came under fire from elements of the Panzer-Lehr-Division.[10] It eventually found its way back to Fontenay. Meanwhile, the 11th Royal Scots Fusiliers of 147th Infantry Brigade eventually pushed forward through the mist and began attacking Fontenay-le-Pesnel. The village was strongly defended by the 3rd/26th SS Regiment and heavy inconclusive fighting raged throughout the morning.[11] The British were eventually forced to withdraw to the northern outskirts of the village and await reinforcements. Confused fighting raged along the Rauray spur.

By the afternoon, the position was beginning to coagulate. The 146th Brigade had successfully reached its objective line at the woods near Vendes but when the 1st/4th Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry attempted to push beyond to the Tessel-Bretteville wood, they came under withering machine gun fire and were forced to dig in.[12] On the right, it was almost nightfall before reinforcements came to the 11th Royal Scots in Fontenay, in the shape of 7th Duke of Wellington's Regiment. This battalion managed to clear most of the village by midnight [13]

As fighting drew to a close at 0000 hours, 26 June, the 49th Division established a line roughly south of Fontenay-le-Pesnel. Rauray and around half of the spur remained in enemy hands. Despite not securing the flank of VIII Corps in time for Epsom, the division prepared to continue its offensive on the following day.

The Battle Continues[]

At 0530 hours on 26 June, the 70th Infantry and 8th Armoured Brigades led the 49th Division's renewed offensive. A battlegroup consisting of the 24th Lancers and the 12th (Motorised) Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps penetrated Tessel-Bretteville but were withdrawn by the afternoon as the troops on their right had failed to advance much beyond their start lines. The front stabilised once again.[14] During the night, two companies from the 2nd Battalion, 192nd Panzer-Grenadier Regiment of 21st Panzer Division came up to bolster the defences of Panzer-Lehr-Division near Vendes, which remained in German hands for the duration of the operation.[15] The latter panzer division had been briefly engaged against elements of 146th Brigade but in the main was still concentrated against 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division on the 49th Division's right flank.[16]

The following day, 27 June, the 49th Division continued to attack. 146th Brigade captured the Tessel-Bretteville wood but could not push beyond it. The 70th Infantry Brigade/8th Armoured Brigade taskforce was more successful, driving rapidly southwards and infiltrating Rauray. Heavy fighting raged in the village throughout the day but by nightfall it was in British hands. The 70th Brigade prepared to continue advancing south the following day [17]

On the morning of 28 June, 1st Tyneside Scottish of 70th Brigade began infiltrating into Brettevillette, south of Rauray. By the afternoon though, German pressure on this exposed position increased, as elements of Kampfgruppe Weidinger of 2nd SS Panzer Division were hastily thrown into the Odon front to gain time for the imminent arrival of the II SS Panzer Corps [18] The British were ejected from Brettevillete and formed a new defensive line around Rauray. The spur was in British hands and 49th Division prepared to defend it.[19]

Between 29–30 June, the 49th Division remained in this defensive line around Rauray, being sporadically shelled and fired at by KG Weidinger. The main attack by II SS Panzer Corps took place further south, so the division's front was largely 'quiet', except for continued German and British reconnaissances. On 1 July, KG Weidinger began an assault at 0600 hours against Rauray. Supported by armour, it drove straight on the village, isolating the 1st Tyneside Scottish to the south. Sharp fighting ensued around Rauray as the 11th Durham Light Infantry and the 1st Tyneside Scottish struggled to repel the Germans. At around 1000 hours the Germans began to withdraw and preparations were made to follow up this withdrawal but at 1100 hours a renewed assault was launched against the village by KG Weidinger but again failed to breach the British line. A final attack, launched around midday by the 9th SS Panzer Division to the south again made little progress, in spite of four hours of fighting. By 1800 hours the Germans withdrew for the last time.[20] The 70th Brigade had been hit heavily, 1st Tyneside Scottish in particular losing 132 men alone on this day.[21] However, the line had been held, and Odon Bridgehead was now largely secure.

Aftermath[]

A knocked out German 75mm anti-tank gun, and disabled Panther tank, in Fontenay-le-Pesnel during Operation Martlet.

The 49th Division remained in its line around Rauray for almost a month, partaking in a largely defensive operation, with the exception of a diversionary action around Juvigny during the Second Battle of the Odon. On 30 July, the division was transferred from XXX Corps to I Corps and took post in the bridgehead east of the River Orne, from where it eventually began a successful drive to the Seine. The 12th SS Division, severely battered by the Epsom battles, continued fighting against further British offensives at Carpiquet Airfield (Operation Windsor), Caen (Operation Charnwood) and Operation Goodwood. It settled in a position south-east of Caen in mid-July, from where it was gradually forced back by continued Anglo-Canadian offensives. The 9th SS Division remained in the Odon Valley, holding Hill 112 against the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division during Operation Jupiter. It too was eventually pushed back into the Falaise Pocket.

Footnotes[]

  1. Ellis, John, The World War II Databook, BCA Publishing, 2003. No ISBN. p.217
  2. Ellis, The World War II Databook p.205
  3. Ellis, p. 275
  4. Ellis, L.F., The Battle of Normandy, p.276
  5. Saunders, p.32
  6. OpOrd quoted in Meyer, pp.338-339
  7. Meyer, p.340
  8. Saunders, p.33
  9. Meyer, p.339
  10. Meyer, pp.339-340
  11. Saunders, p.35
  12. Saunders, p.35
  13. Saunders, p.35
  14. Saunders, pp.35-6
  15. Meyer, p.386;Clark, p.42, p.65
  16. Meyer, p.386
  17. Clark, pp.65-67
  18. Baverstock, pp.40-47
  19. Saunders, p.123
  20. Baverstock, pp.65-149
  21. Baverstock, p.155

References[]

  • Baverstock, Kevin. Breaking the Panzers: The Bloody Battle for Rauray. Sutton Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0-7509-2895-6
  • Clark, Lloyd, Operation Epsom. Sutton Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0-7509-3008-X
  • Delaforce, Patrick. The Polar Bears. Sutton Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0-7509-3194-9
  • Ellis, Major L.F.; with Allen R.N., Captain G.R.G. Allen; Warhurst, Lieutenant-Colonel A.E. & Robb, Air Chief-Marshal Sir James (2004) [1st. pub. HMSO 1962]. Butler, J.R.M. ed. Victory in the West, Volume I: The Battle of Normandy. History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series. Naval & Military Press Ltd. ISBN 1-84574-058-0. 
  • Meyer, Hubert (2005). 12th SS: The History of the Hitler Youth Panzer Division Volume I. Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-3198-7. 
  • Saunders, Tim, Operation Epsom. Pen & Sword, 2003. ISBN 0-85052-954-9

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