Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Operation Goodwood, Aftermath

Shermans in Escoville

The rain had returned to Normandy.

Sgt Fitzhugh and his crew were riding on the back of one of his "Lambs." Of the four tanks his troop had taken into battle, the one he was riding on was the last. His own tank, a Sherman VC which they had all referred to as "Old 55" (based on its serial number), was a blazing wreck just outside Sannerville.

When they had received the order to pull back, as the Guards Armoured Division was taking heavy tank casualties and were themselves pulling back, all went well at first. They had lost one tank to an 88 mm gun while advancing on Cagny but the crew had all survived, they had fallen back into Sannerville and had been evacuated by truck all the way back to the tank depot near Bénouville.

Out of the gathering night they had been hit in the left flank by tanks from the 21st Panzer Division. Fitzhugh had lost another Sherman there, again, the crew had all survived though the driver was badly wounded. As Fitzhugh's half-strength troop was rather occupied fighting the Jerries, he didn't know any of that, he had seen Max Caldwell's tank hit and begin to burn but that was it.

"Old 55" had halted and had begun to engage the advancing Germans, a mix of Mark 4s (as the British often referred to the Pzkw IV) and Panthers, as the surviving Lamb, commanded by Sgt Jackie Rothstein, moved to get on the Germans' flank. Rothstein had fired on the move and had hit a Mark 4 which blew up spectacularly, it's turret flipping through the air to land on, and disable a second Mark 4.

Cpl Cecil Chapman, "Old 55's" gunner, had engaged a Panther just as Fitzhugh had been looking forward once more, the bright flash from the 17-pounder dazzled him. He could see nothing for a few long moments. He sat down hard in his seat and yelled, "Cecil, I'm blind, bloody muzzle flash!"

"Sorry Skipper, but..." Cpl Chapman was in the middle of a sentence when he stomped on the gun pedal again. He had closed his eyes when he fired and when he reopened them another Panther was burning. It was then that he'd noticed that the German tanks were not alone, he could see infantry, Panzergrenadiers no doubt, scurrying about in the light from three burning German tanks. It was at that point he really wished they had a bow gunner!¹

In front of Stabsfeldwebel Gerhard Lindner's position on the edge of Cagny, he could see at least fifteen burning British Shermans. He shook his head one more time to try and and clear his ears, they were still ringing but his hearing was gradually coming back. What he thought had been blood coming from his ears was actually a nasty cut on top of his head.

The hit atop 224's turret hadn't penetrated, nor caused any spalling, but Lindner had been startled when the round had hit them. He had jumped and smacked his head against the underside of his cupola. He was still daubing that wound with the cleanest portion of an oily rag. It stung like Hell, but he thought the bleeding had stopped.

He saw figures moving in the field between Cagny and Manneville, as for some odd reason the British had advanced with no infantry support at all, he assumed they were German. But he watched them all the same and had his MP-40 handy, should it be needed.

"Gerhard, it's me, Fromme. Don't shoot!"

Lindner watched as his battalion commander staggered into their position, along with about 20 other men. Major Fromme's uniform was torn and scorched, Lindner recognized some of the other men as tank crewmen and at least three men from the battalion staff.

"Herr Major, where are the others? Where are your tanks?"

"Gone Gerhard, the RAF hit us very hard this morning. We lost all of our tanks. Your platoon is all that is left of the 503rd."

Lindner stood there, looking northwards where he could see a sharp engagement taking place. He assumed that it was 21st Panzer attacking the British who had attacked him that afternoon.

Lindner climbed down from his tank and took the major aside, out of earshot of the others. "Herr Major, we've heard from headquarters, 7th Army headquarters, Rommel is dead and someone has tried to assassinate the Führer. Yesterday. They failed but the Gestapo and the Feldpolizei are rounding up anyone who has spoken out against the war."

"Rommel. Dead? How?"

"Strafed by a Jabo. Reports are mixed, some say he's alive, 7th Army says he's dead. The situation is very confused."

Fromme stood there for a long moment, this was insane. "Gerhard, how many tanks left in your platoon?"

"Two. I lost two when the British attacked. Those damned big gunned Shermans. We killed two of them, but they killed Walter's and Herbert's Tigers."

"Crew losses?"

"Walter lost one man, no one made it out of Herbert's machine."


Knocked out Pzkw VI Ausf. E

It had been close to midnight when a 75 mm round had penetrated the engine compartment of "Old 55." The tank had come to an abrupt halt and was beginning to smoke. Another German tank round hit the side of 55's turret, ringing the turret like a bell as the round glanced off and shrieked into the night, trailing sparks.

"Right lads, time to get out!" Fitzhugh ordered. He jumped off the front of 55 and ran into his driver, LCpl Thomas Ginns.

"Right Tommy, head for the rear, we'll meet up again at the tank park, off you go now!"

His loader, Chapman joined him and said, "I saw Willis get clear, told him to head for Bénouville, did you see Tommy, he get out?"

"Yes, Tommy is clear, I told him to make his way to the tank park. We need to get the Hell out of here." He could hear German voices shouting in the near distance, he felt like they were hunting him, personally.

At that moment a tank gun barked, a Sherman tank gun, to their right. He heard a loud bang, when he turned in that direction, he saw a German halftrack flip onto its side, scattering its occupants. Both the coaxial and bow machine guns on the Sherman started to chatter, slaughtering the survivors from the halftrack.

Silhouetted by the flames Fitzhugh could see a Panther roll into view, the big tank stopped and its turret began to turn in their direction. The Sherman's gun barked again, the Panther stopped, a glowing hole in its side armor.

"Come on Fitzie! We can't hang about here all bloody day, I don't think Jerry likes us very much." Jackie Rothstein was leaning down from his turret, yelling at Fitzhugh and Chapman. They scrambled aboard Rothstein's Sherman, then held on for dear life as Rothstein had his driver moving off to the north and into the shroud of night.

Knocked out Sherman and knocked out Pzkw IV

That had been some hours ago, now Fitzhugh rode the back of Rothstein's Sherman, lost in thought and soaking wet from the rain. The red caps² had stopped them in Amfreville and redirected them to the brigade's tank park. He reckoned that his troop would be rebuilt, new tanks were plentiful, it was men they were running short of...
Just prior to GOODWOOD, the Adjutant-General of the British Army had advised Montgomery that infantry reinforcements could no longer be guaranteed in sufficient numbers to keep the British formations fighting in France at full strength.
This infantry manpower shortage led Dempsey to persuade a reluctant Montgomery to launch an attack by an all-armor corps. In mid-July, Montgomery's forces needed to resume offensive action to keep German armor tied down in the eastern half of the (Normandy) bridgehead prior to the American "Cobra" offensive in the west. An all-armor attack also was logical because Dempsey could not afford to (lose) infantrymen, but could afford to lose (armour). "Goodwood" contravened Montgomery's stated policy never to employ a corps comprised entirely of armor. This policy reflected both the often poor performance of Allied armor during break-in operations in North Africa and the realities of modern warfare, which now required intimate infantry-tank cooperation. Ironically, the shortage of adequate infantry support for the armor constituted the biggest factor in the failure of "Goodwood."
British and Canadian losses at this point in the campaign had been 37,563. Montgomery was reluctant to mass his armour, having seen the occasional disastrous consequence of unsupported tanks fighting independently in the desert, but was caught between not wanting to fight another costly infantry battle for which he had no reinforcements, and mounting pressure from London and Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). There was still not enough room around Caen to deploy either the 1st Canadian Army, or the airfields needed to support the Allied bridgehead. Montgomery felt that above all, it was necessary to support Operation COBRA, a major American offensive tentatively scheduled for the third week of July. Major action at Caen would prevent German forces from shifting westward to meet the American offensive. (Source)
Operation Goodwood was over, Operation Cobra, on the American flank of the lodgment, was still a week away. Parts of Caen were still in German hands...
One historian, writing in the mid-1960s, referred to GOODWOOD as the "death ride of the armoured divisions" given the number of tanks that were lost in the offensive. General Dempsey, commanding the 2nd Army, later noted:
The attack we put in on July 18th was not a very good operation of war tactically, but strategically it was a great success, even though we did get a bloody nose. I didn't mind about that. I was prepared to lose a couple of hundred tanks. So long as I didn't lose men. We could afford the tanks because they had begun to pile up in the bridgehead. Our tank losses were severe but our casualties in men were very light. If I had tried to achieve the same result with a conventional infantry attack I hate to think what the casualties would have been.
The tangible results of the battle were to put all of Caen in Allied hands, and to prevent the danger of major counter-offensive on the eastern flank. The three major obstacles impeding further advance - the city of Caen, the Odon River, and the Orne - were finally behind the British 2nd Army after six weeks ashore. "Moreover, the new positions occupied by the Second Army posed a grave threat to the entire German right flank: their anchor was lost and the severe battering they had taken during GOODWOOD ensured that they lacked the strength to take it back." (Source)

¹ To provide more ammunition storage for the 17-pounder, the bow gunner's position had been eliminated in the Sherman VC. The vehicle only had a crew of four, most Shermans had a crew of five.
² British military policemen, they wore a distinctive red cover on their 


  1. I really like this header photo. Shame the photographer didn't manage to swim out of the way in time.

    1. That one might stay the rest of the summer. I like it that much!

    2. Yeah, funny thing about the bow wave from a large displacement hull. Water's gotta go somewhere.

  2. Ya......neat header there Sarge. Better engines resulted in more speed led to casement guns going away. That's quite the bow wave in what looks to be calm seas. Once again the Germans faced opponents who had more, in the case of the Brits, tanks than they had. Time to trot out that old "quantity has a quality all it's own" eh, what?

    1. Remember, most of the German tanks were Pzkw IVs, a tank which the Sherman matches well against. Though the IV's gun is much better than a standard Sherman gun. The British lost more tanks in Goodwood than the Germans had to oppose them. Goodwood still failed. Advancing in the open against a prepared defender is always a crap shoot, usually a losing proposition for the attacker. Ask R.E. Lee.

  3. Sarge, question: was it really the "death ride of the armoured dvisions" or is it that it was finally discovered the most effective terrain for tanks (not trying to be foolish, sincerely asking)? From what I recall (30 years gone now), the First Iraq War saw tanks very successfully used in a very specific situation: open plains, minimal opposition (for the open plains part, much like the Western Soviet Union). Is is just that they were universal used as general weapon when in fact (like many weapons) they are best when used in specific circumstances?

    1. I used that quote as it led into the quote from General Dempsey. As the British armored divisions continued to provide good service to the end of the war (and beyond), I write off that historian's quote as hyperbole, if not outright nonsense.

      All weapons systems have an optimal set of circumstances for their use, armor is no exception. While Goodwood seems nearly insane to us (70-odd years later) it was what the British had to deal with then. Running low on infantry, but with tanks easily replaceable (though not their crews), they decided to advance into the teeth of vicious opposition and paid dearly. However, the Germans paid a steep price as well. When the breakout of Operation Cobra finally occurred, the Germans had practically no mobile forces to oppose the American breakout, the British had bled those nearly to death around Caen.

      Tanks by themselves have many weaknesses, they are sitting ducks in close terrain (woods, towns, cities) when opposed by well-trained infantry. In the open they can see far and shoot far, but then again, so can the enemy. Suppression of enemy defenses by air or artillery (or both) is important before one charges off downrange. The 1st Gulf War saw a well-trained armor force, with superb equipment, go into battle against a nearly completely demoralized enemy, Hell, the regular Iraqi forces were surrendering to helicopters.

      Optimal use of a balanced (i.e. includes infantry) armored force? Exploitation - let infantry, air, and artillery punch a hole in the enemy's main line of resistance, then send the tanks into the enemy's rear to shoot up his logistics. Works well, but favorable terrain certainly helps.

    2. In the more open area around Caen, rather than the more closed and divided areas around the Cotenin (or Cherbourg Peninsula for usn who'un speaks English,) massed armor was a reasonable concept. Massed armor with artillery and air support, with radio tanks, actually not a bad idea. Especially with the disparity of supply. The Germans couldn't afford to not shoot up every British tank, but also couldn't afford to shoot, as their ammo and fuel and overall supply situation was getting kind of precarious, while the Brits was just a truckload away from the beaches.

      You have to do what you have to do. Sometimes you have to just charge the guns.

    3. Which is why one of the characters quoted Tennyson. 😉

    4. The British had a bad habit of sending in waves of tanks unsupported. They tried it multiple times in North Africa and got soundly spanked each time. At least with Goodwood, they had solid artillery and air support, so it wasn't as bad a fiasco, but they still took a pounding.

  4. All good, so interesting to me (and others, too, apparently). Keep up the good work OAFS! These entries make for a great second cuppa and provoke me to think about the essence of humanity. It scares me sometime, but I know the ending.

    1. Thanks Dave.

      While we know the ending in 1945, I'm not so confident of how 2020 will play out.

  5. I look at the header photo and the first thing I see is the smoke.
    Someone in Main Control is gonna get an ass chewing.
    Then I notice what looks like a whole lot of crew on the main deck.
    So something is afoot.
    There’s gotta be a story there.

    1. Sea trials as I recall. Photo op here, USS Connecticut, she swamped the boat where the photographer was sitting. Bear in mind, she was coal-fired, not oil.

    2. American battleships of that period had little freeboard compared to later classes designed for the Pacific and North Atlantic. They were wet ships in heavy seas. When they later removed the casemated secondary guns and sealed up the openings they got better. Between that and when ships like the USS Texas were converted from coal to oil-burners, they got a lot roomier for the crews.

  6. Okay, I owe some apologies to Montgomery. Some.

    And... Most histories I've read gloss over the post invasion, pre-running full speed across France period. They talk about the Bocage, but not about the flatter and drier lands to the east. Maybe I've been reading too many American-centric histories.

    (Still think Monty's reputation is way overblown, but, yeah, concede his concerns were right about OpGoodwood (dang, that sounds like a naughty movie, doesn't it?))



    You've had Blue for a while. Status Report?

    1. Hmmm. Just noticed something. Apparently the Brits actually believed the Shermans were survivable in combat. As their whole premise behind Operation Goodwood was that the crews were going to mostly survive combat even if the tanks were shot up.

      Kind of a historic nail in the coffin on the whole 'Tommie Cooker' thingy.

    2. Beans #1 - Monty wasn't quite the idiot some American writers have made him out to be. Of course, some British writers made him out to be the second coming of Wellington, the truth lies somewhere in between.

      Blue is freaking awesome.

    3. Beans #2 -The more I read about the Sherman the more I am convinced that all the horror stories with regards to that vehicle were more about selling books than relating historical fact.

  7. Allies had tanks to throw away, Germans did not...
    Plus, as usual with such battles, Germans ended up throwing more and more best divisions towards Caen, leaving easier path for Cobra. Similar story to Stalingrad and weakening of the flanks...
    Finally, with Germans battered and bloodied too, Poles and Canadians would get their chance to shine soon afterwards.

    1. Canadians were already punching way above their weight class since D-Day. Damned fine soldiers then, and now.

  8. Hey AFSarge;

    I always thought the Sherman was a better tank than the naysayer gave it credit for except for the anemic gun, the tank was a very good tank, it was reliable, easy to repair and easy to maintain in the battlefield conditions and unlike German tanks, wasn't complicated. The British Commanders were of 2 types...Percival or Haig. Montgomery was a good commander who believed his own hype and believed he was a far better general than he was, Operation Market-Garden was proof positive of that, the projection never matched the reality and it tore the guts out of the British Airborne divisions and I don't know if they ever recovered by wars end.

    1. Not to mention we had a crap ton of Shermans. A crap ton.

  9. When your only tool is a hammer you start seeing lots and lots of nails. Hindsight is said to be 20:20, and it's true that we have lots of info that the players on stage lacked in the moment, but I'm pretty sure we don't see as clearly as we like to think we do. This is a great exploration of the situation Sarge and offers great food for thought. Thanks!

    1. We tend to read of battles and think they are coherent and made sense to the participants at the time when that is nearly the exact opposite of reality. Battle is terrifying, confusing, and chaotic, what might have made sense to the planners often makes zero sense to those on the sharp end who have to execute that plan.

      Thanks Shaun!


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.