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 Post subject: Taking the Rise: Operation Goodwood, July 18-20th 1944
PostPosted: Wed Oct 15, 2008 5:17 pm 
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While the true goals of Operation Goodwood have been questioned since it took place the one thing that is beyond reproach is the bravery and resourcefulness of the men who fought to complete the capture of the French town of Caen and the area immediately to it's south and east.

Operation Overlord, (D-Day), was more than a month past and the advance into the French countryside had stalled in the vicinity of the town of Caen. The Allies desperately needed to regain the initiative. In order for the Allies to break out of Normandy General Omar Bradley led Operation Cobra which swung out of the Normandy peninsula to the south and then carried out a flanking manoeuvre eastwards and completed the it by moving back north towards Falaise. At the time Operation Goodwood would serve two purposes. Firstly, it would, in concert with the Canadian Operation Atlantic which concentrated on the south and west of Caen and the airfield at Caen/Carpiquet, capture the major town of Caen itself and the airfield. Both of which had been well defended by the Germans. Secondly it would serve to hold the German 21st Panzer division in place around Caen thus preventing it from being committed to battle against the American forces executing Operation Cobra.

The attack began with a massive bombardment of German positions in and around Caen and the villages to the south east followed by an advance of armoured divisions under a creeping barrage. The advance was hampered by inadqequate and improperly prepared routes of advance. By noon on the 18th of July the advance had managed to move about 10 kilometers which, by the end of the battle, would comprise the lions share of all ground taken. The Guards Armoured Division, on the eastern flank, now became held up by heavy fire from the village of Cagny leaving only elements of the 11th Armoured Division to try to continue the advance.

The larger elements of the 11th Armoured Division were confronted by the German 21st Panzer Division entrenched in the area known as the Bourguebus Ridge and the advance again slowed and finally halted. Smaller elements however, comprised of smaller and faster armoured Cars of the 11th Armoured Division had bypassed the main elements of the German 21st Panzer Division and found themselves about three kilometers south of the Bourguebus Ridge near the small village of Saint Aignan-de-Cramesnil.

It was here that it became apparent to Flight Sergeant William Buckley, detached from No. 3 Armoured Car Company of the Royal Air Force, that his three Humber Scout Cars had become separated from the main elements of the advance. The chatter on the Mark 19 radio indicated that the lead elements of the 11 Armoured Division were bogged down some one kilometer to the north east of the Bourguebus Ridge which runs approximately between the village of Bourguebus and La Hogue along the Rue Vallee es Dunes. The main issue they seemed to be facing were three Panther IV tanks which were themselves an advanced element of the II/1st Panzer Battalion of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment under the command of the skilled armoured tactician Joachim Peiper.

Flight Sergeant Buckley ordered his vehicles east up the road towards Secqueville and then from there north towards the village of Hogue. On the outskirts of the Hogue they took to a cart track leading in a westerly direction and almost immediately encountered the three Panther tanks partially hidden from the 11th Division elements by a rise in the ground typical of the area, Relieved that they had approached undetected from the Panther's rear Flight Sergeant Buckley assessed his options. His .303 exterior mounted Bren gun, despite the fact he could operate it from within the approximately 1/2" armoured turret, would prove useless against the much more powerful Panthers. Flight Sergeant Buckley did however have to hand several satchel charges and one of his other cars had a Piat Anti Tank weapon which might prove effective if the Panthers could be immobilized.

Without thought of his own safety Flight Sergeant Buckley briefed his cars on their actions after the first satchel charge exploded and dismounted his vehicle. He quickly approached the nearest Panther, set the charge in the suspension wheels in the track and looped around to the western end of the three Tanks. He had just managed to place the second charge when the first one detonated. As briefed his number 2 car showed itself at a gap in the hedge where it was hiding just long enough for two of the Panthers to see it before withdrawing. Meanwhile, in the confusion, the Piat gunner from the third car moved in to about 30 metres from the middle tank and fired a shot at the seam between the turret and the hull. The shot was perfect and the Panther "brewed up" immediately. The crew of the first Panther had fired a shot at the number 2 car and, whilst missing, had caused damage to the front tyres leaving it unable to manoeuvre at anything more than a crawl.

Believing that they were under a concerted attack from a significant force the third Panther tried to reverse out of it's position and the satchel charge fell from it's location. Flight Sergeant Buckley, estimating there was still time on the fuse, ran forward, grabbed the charge and replaced it just prior to it's detonation and succeeded in getting around to the front of the tank before it exploded where he was hit twice by bullets from the tanks machine gun. As the satchel charge went off the Piat gunner simultaneously fired his second shot successfully disabling the tank and, inadvertently, almost certainly saving the life of Flight Sergeant Buckley.

Flight Sergeant Buckley, though wounded took the Piat and the remaining satchel charge and ordered the Piat Gunner to put the crew members of the crippled car in the third seats of the remaining vehicle and make ready to depart. He also ordered that a radio call be made to the 11th Division elements across the field to the north east to be prepared for their exposure over the rise as they attempted to return to their own lines. He then approached the remaining immobile tank that was still attempting to engage the crippled car and threw the last satchel charge up onto the hull and withdrew some 20 yards to fire the Piat which failed to fire. With no remaining Piat ammunition he withdrew to his car.

Flight Sergeant Buckley ordered the two cars to withdraw towards the 11th Division positions and the two cars took off. The remaining Panther saw their departure and brought it's main gun to bear and destroyed the third car leaving only Flight Sergeant Buckley's vehicle intact. As the Tank swung its gun to bear on the remaining car the satchel charge exploded severely damaging the turret and causing the Panther crew to exit their vehicle. The remaining car made it's way back to the British lines successfully despite the loss of two cars and three crew members.

The operation came to a halt on the afternoon of the 19th when the German armour counter attacked. Historically the operation was a tactical loss in that the final goals had not been accomplished but it is widely acknowledged that the operation held the German 21st Panzer division in place allowing the unmitigated success of Operation Cobra and was, therefore, strategically, a success also.

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