Battle of Villers-Bocage

Battle of Villers-Bocage

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Villers-Bocage
partof=Operation Overlord, Battle of Normandy

caption=This map shows the direction of the 7th Armoured Divisions advance and the directions of the German attacks (One should note that there was no 901st Division on the German Order of Battle, however this is probably a slip for Panzergrenadier-Lehr Regiment 901 of the Panzer Lehr Division).
date=June 13, 1944
place=Villers-Bocage, Normandy, France
result=Tactically indecisive
German strategic victory
combatant1=flag|United Kingdom
combatant2=flag|Nazi Germany|name=Germany
commander1=flagicon|United Kingdom George Erskine
flagicon|United Kingdom William Hinde
commander2=flagicon|Nazi Germany Fritz Bayerlein
flagicon|Nazi Germany [ Heinz von Westernhagen]
strength1=22nd Armoured Brigade group:
~60 tanks [Taylor, p. 6]
strength2=Elements of:
2 Panzer Divisions
1 Heavy tank battalion
28-29+ tanks [Taylor, pp. 17-18 & 56. Forty pp. 74, 133. Taylor claims, 10 Tigers with 1st Kompanie, 6 Tigers with 2nd Kompanie and about 10 Panzer IV's. Forty claims 8 Tigers with 1st Kompanie, 6 Tigers with 2nd Kompanie and 15 Panzer IV's. Unknown number of other tanks engaged in fighting]
casualties1=1 British: [Ellis, p. 254; Forty, p. 78; Major Hastings, p. 352; Taylor, p. 85; 4CLY War Diaries]
308 casualties
27 tanks lost
31 other vehicles destroyed
casualties2=1 2 German [Forty P. 65; Taylor, P. 76; Wilmot, P. 309; 4CLY War Diaries]
Unknown casualties
9-15 tanks destroyed
notes=1More detailed information is available in the 'Aftermath' section2Both the Panzer-Lehr and 2nd Panzer Division did not count the casualties sustained at Villers-Bocage separately from the losses they both incurred that day. Thus a definitive casualty list is not easy to establish.Taylor, p. 85]

The Battle of Villers-Bocage was fought on June 13 1944, during the Battle of Normandy, between the British 7th Armoured Division and German forces made up of the Panzer-Lehr-Division, 2nd Panzer Division and the Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 in the area around the town of Villers-Bocage in Normandy, France.Major Ellis, Official History]

The city of Caen was a vital allied objective and had not been captured as planned during D-Day. XXX Corps launched Operation Perch to push south of the city and envelop it from the west while other British troops from I Corps would attempt to envelop it from the east. The battle was a result of improvisation due to a successful push south by American troops to the west of XXX Corps, which created a 12 kilometer-wide gap within the German lines.Weigley p. 109-110] The 7th Armoured Division attempted to push through the gap and around the main defences of the Panzer-Lehr-division, which was holding up the advance of XXX Corps. The British believed that control over Villers-Bocage and the higher ground to the east of the town, called Point 213, would force the Panzer-Lehr-Division to retreat and possibly result in the capture of Caen.Ellis, p. 254]

The lead elements of the 7th Armoured Division, the 4th County of London Yeomanry and the 1st Rifle Brigade, entered the town during the morning of June 13. 'A' Squadron of the 4th County of London Yeomanry pushed on from the town up the main road, Route Nationale 175, and captured Point 213 convert|1.2|mi|km to the east of town. Three Tiger tanks encamped to the south of the main road under the command of SS-Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann, the commander of the 2nd Company, Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101, then attacked the British tanks. Wittmann and his crew pushed down the main road towards Villers-Bocage and, in the following fifteen minutes, destroyed ten tanks, two anti-tank guns, and a dozen or more half-tracks and Universal carriers. [Forty, p. 139] The 7th Armoured Division reinforced the town with the 1/7 Battalion of the Queen's Royal Regiment and the Germans, now aware of the danger posed to the rear of the Panzer-Lehr-Division, dispatched more tanks and men. At 1300 hoursFortin, p. 10] , fighting resumed and went on throughout the streets of Villers-Bocage for the next six hours.Forty, p. 36]

During the late afternoon [ Brigadier Hinde] , the commanding officer of the British forces fighting within the town, reluctantly ordered his men to fall back due to the increased pressure from the German forces. They pulled back convert|2.5|mi|km west to the village of Amayé-sur-Seulles and formed a defensive "brigade box" alongside other elements of their division. The fighting continued the following day in the Battle of the Brigade Box. [Forty, Chapter 4. Neillands, pp. 221-229. Ellis, pp. 254-256] Historians have called the Battle of Villers-Bocage a German strategic victory and stated that it halted any British hopes of capturing Caen during first half of June.D'Este, p. 197-8] Wilmot, p. 311] The British Second Army continued the Battle for Caen and finally captured the city on July 19. [Ford, p. 10] On June 30 Villers-Bocage was destroyed by RAF bombing to support Operation Epsom [Jackson, pp.55-56] and finally liberated on August 4 when a patrol from the 1st Dorset Regiment, 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division, entered the town. [Forty, p. 100] [Clay, p. 267]


Operation Perch was the second major attempt to capture the city of Caen after the direct attacks by the 3rd Infantry Division on June 6 and 7 failed. The plan envisioned I and XXX Corps encircling the city assisted by landing the 1st Airborne Division, codenamed Operation Wild Oats, between them.Ellis, p. 247] Ford, p. 32]

The 51st (Highland) Infantry Division was to push out of the Orne bridgehead to capture the town of Cagny, convert|6|mi|km southeast of Caen, forming the eastern pincer. 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division was to form the western pincer, attacking south to capture in succession both its D-Day objective of Bayeux and then Tilly-sur-Seulles. The 7th Armoured Division would then carry on the advance and take Villers-Bocage before turning east to capture Evrecy. When the Royal Air Force refused to operate transport aircraft in the area of the intended landing zones, citing intense anti-aircraft hazards, General Montgomery deleted the airborne division from the plan.

The attacks by the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division were halted by the 21st Panzer Division and the attacks by the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and elements of the 7th Armoured Division bogged down in front of Tilly-sur-Seulles due to stiff resistance from the Panzer-Lehr-Division. [Ellis, p. 250] The Panzer-Lehr-Division was considered to be the strongest, best-equipped division in France, containing some of the most experienced and best-trained men within the German army.Ford, p. 29]

On the right flank of XXX Corps, the United States 1st Infantry Division was pushing the German 352nd Infantry Division back and was nearing the town of Caumont-l'Éventé slowly opening up a gap in the German lines at the junction of XXX Corps and the American V Corps, a gap which eventually stretched to convert|7.5|mi|km in length.Major Ellis, p. 253]

Conscious of the opportunity created by the American advance Lieutenant-General Dempsey, commander of the Second Army, personally ordered Major-General ErskineAshley Hart, p. 134] Wilmot, p. 308] , the commanding officer of the 7th Armoured Division, to disengage his division from fighting near Tilly-sur-Seulles [4CLY War Diary, entries following landing in Normandy shows the unit supporting the 50th Infantry Division and then being ordered to flank around the German frontline. Major Ellis, p. 252, the official history of the campaign notes that the 7th and 50th divisions were mixed together and fighting north of Tilly. Forty, pp. 48-49 map show that the two divisions were intermixed and fighting north of Tilly] and prepare to exploit the gap created in the German front line. The 7th Armoured Division was ordered to push through the gap, circle around the Panzer-Lehr-Division then capture Villers-Bocage and the high ground beyond the town, called Point 213. It was hoped that the appearance of British armour in the rear of the Panzer-Lehr-Division, occupying the high ground and important lines of communication, would compel the German forces to withdraw from Tilly-sur-Seulle or surrender, get the operation to capture Caen back on track and keep operations fluid. [Clay, p. 257] [Taylor, p. 10]

However there is some controversy regarding who originated the plan to have the 7th Armoured Division outflank the Panzer-Lehr-Division. Everyone from Montgomery down to Erskine have claimed or have been given credit for the idea. [Forty, p. 37] More modern studies have supported the case that it was Dempsey who gave the order.

However the Germans were also aware of the importance of this high ground and that the British would most likely want to capture it. They dispatched elements of the Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 to close any gaps on the Panzer-Lehr-Division's left flank and to keep the high ground out of British hands.Forty, p. 57] The first part of this force, Michael Wittmann's 2nd Company, down to only six serviceable tanks after a five day road march from Beauvais, France,cite web |url=|title=Tiger Information Centre, 101 Battalion unit history|accessdate=|author=Hamby|date=|work= |publisher=] only arrived in the area on June 12.

Plans and orders


The 7th Armoured Division, tasked with capturing Villers-Bocage, planned to send a reinforced brigade to seize the town and surrounding area while the remaining forces kept the division's lines of communications open.Forty, pp. 80 & 82]

This force, the 22nd Armoured Brigade group, was made up of Corps and Divisional troops from XXX Corps and the 7th Armoured Division as well as elements of the divisions two brigades, the 22nd Armoured Brigade and 131 (Queens) Infantry Brigade.The Brigade group was placed under the command of the 22nd Armoured Brigade commanding officer, Brigadier W.R.N. "Looney" Hinde.Forty, p. 51]

During the night of June 12/13, while the Brigade group leaguered near the village of "la Mulotiere", Brigadier Hinde drew up his plan for the occupation of Villers-Bocage and surrounding area.

A Company, 1st Rifle Brigade and the 4CLY would proceed through the town and capture Point 213. 1/7 Queen's would follow them up and secure the eastern end of the town while the remaining companies of the 1st Rifle Brigade would occupy the western end.

Outside of the town, the 5RTR would capture the high ground around the village of Maisoncelles-Pelvey, convert|2|mi|km to the southwest of Villers-Bocage, and the 260th Anti Tank battery would take up positions between them and the 4CLY on Point 213.Forty, p. 52] The 1/5th Queen's would position themselves to the west of Villers-Bocage while the two Hussar regiments would provide flank protection.

The rest of the division, the 1st Royal Tank Regiment and the 1/6th Queen's, under the command of the 131st (Queen’s) Infantry Brigade, were given the mission of keeping the division's lines of communication open and would stay in the la Mulotiere area.


Aware of the gap in their front line, and the probability that the British would attempt to exploit it, Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 was dispatched to take up positions on the Panzer-Lehr-Division’s left flank and ordered to keep Villers-Bocage and Point 213 out of allied hands.

The only unit from this formation, present in the vicinity of the town on the morning of June 13, was 2nd Company. This Company comprised six Tiger Is: Said to be Tigers 211, 221, 222, 223, 233 and 234. However another Tiger 231 was photographed damaged after the battle) under the command of SS-Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann.Forty, p. 61] [Taylor, p. 17] At full strength, the 2nd Company would have consisted of 14 Tiger tanks [Forty, p. 35. Taylor, p. 8] . However, the remaining Tigers, including Wittmann’s own, had not been able to complete the road march from Beauvais for various reasons, largely breakdowns. On the morning of June 13 Tiger 221 was sent off to establish contact with the Panzer-Lehr-Division.

Opening moves

The 7th Armoured Division left Trungy around 1600 hours on June 12.Forty, p. 50] Neillands, p. 226] Within a few hours the division had advanced convert|12|mi|km to Livry against little resistance. However at Livry, the vanguard of the division, the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars, ran into Panzergrenadiers and an anti tank gun of the Panzer-Lehr-Division’s Escort Company. The 1st Rifle Brigade was moved up to clear the village, which it accomplished by 2000 hours. With the village clear Brigadier Hinde decided to halt the division for the night to hide the division's main intention. [Taylor, p. 11] This advance was to date the furthest penetration into occupied France by any allied unit With regular maintenance and reconnaissance to be conducted it was well after midnight by the time the Brigade group was able to settle in there leaguer near la Mulotiere. [Taylor, p. 12]

The advance resumed at 0530 hours, led by an armoured battalion and other units providing flank protection and reconnaissance.Forty, p. 50] The 22nd Armoured Brigade group were greeted by jubilant civilians en route to Villers-Bocage as well as receiving information that suggested German tanks were stranded in Tracy-Bocage, which was later found to be incorrect. Before entering Villers-Bocage a German armoured car was sighted, with its commander clearly watching the advance, however it withdrew before being engaged. [Forty, pp. 54-55] Neillands, p. 221] At 0830 hours, after covering the convert|5|mi|km from their overnight position, the 22nd Armoured Brigade group entered Villers-Bocage.Wilmot, p. 309] There was a mood of general relaxation as the men of A Squadron 4CLY and A Company 1st Rifle Brigade were met by the liberated French population.Forty, p. 55] Wilmot, p. 309]

With Villers-Bocage in British hands, A Squadron motored ahead as fast as possible, without prior reconnaissance as per orders, to capture Point 213. [Forty, p. 54] As they arrived they engaged and destroyed a Kübelwagen driving up the road towards them. The lead tanks took up hull down positions in the fields flanking the road while the remainder of the squadron parked along the side of the road.Forty, p. 56] Outside of Villers-Bocage on the road towards Point 213, the vehicles of the 4CLY reconnaissance troop, the 4CLY regimental headquarters and A Company, 1st Rifle Brigade moved to the side of the road to allow easy passage for other vehicles and began to dismount. [Forty, pp. 56-57] D'Este, pp. 187-88] In his history of the Rifle Brigade Major Hastings records that A Company were ordered to the side of the road to keep it clear by officers from the 4CLY, that the terrain was very narrow with line of sight to their flanks being less then two hundred meters, and that they had already posted sentries. [Hastings, p. 350] . The historian D'Este is more critical of A Company's conduct at this point, citing a failure to adhere to doctrine and form an all round defence once they had halted.

Within the town Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Arthur Cranley, commanding officer of the 4CLY, was concerned that his men were "out on a limb". He was visited by Brigadier Hinde, who attempted to reassure him and then ordered him up to Point 213 to check on the defensive position of A Squadron. The Brigadier then returned to his tactical headquarters, although some sources suggest that he did not return until the German attack began. Major J. Wright, the commanding officer of A Company 1st Rifle Brigade, now based on Point 213 requested all platoon commanders to meet him for a conference.Forty, p. 132]

Undetected by British forces Michael Wittmann, and his Company of six Tiger tanks, observed these events from a position around 200 metres south of the main road. A British advance in this area had been anticipated but the Tiger Company were surprised by the actual number of British tanks and troops now there. [Forty, pp. 57, 58 & 133] At 0900Forty p. 58] the 22nd Armoured Brigade group was split into several groups; A Squadron, the commanding officer of the 4CLY and all the officers from A Company 1st Rifle Brigade were on Point 213, the 4CLY reconnaissance troop, regimental headquarters and 1st Rifle Brigade were in Villers-Bocage and its eastern outskirts, while the rest of the Brigade group were well to the west of town.

The morning action

Quote box
quote="For Christ’s sake get a move on! There’s a Tiger running alongside us fifty yards away!"
source=Sergeant O’Connor, 1st Platoon, A Company, 1st Rifle Brigade.|

At approximately 0900 Sergeant O’Connor, travelling towards Point 213 in a half-track, broke radio silence to give the only warning to British forces in and around Villers-Bocage before the German attack began. [Forty, pp. 57-58] A single Tiger tank, commanded by Wittmann, drove onto "Route Nationale 175" and engaged the two rearmost tanks from A Squadron 4CLY, positioned on Point 213, destroying a Cromwell and Sherman Firefly.Forty p. 58] Shortly afterwards two Cromwell tanks of A Squadrons were knocked out by Tigers 221 and 223 (commanded by SS-Unterscharführer Georg Hantusch and Jurgen Brendt respectively.), which had been making their way up to Point 213 via a wooded trackForty, p. 60] around 200 meters south of the main road.

Following the destruction of the two rearmost tanks, Wittmann proceeded down "Route Nationale 175" towards Villers-Bocage, and in the following minutes destroyed the mechanized transport of the 1st Rifle Brigade parked at the side of the road along with two QF 6 pounder anti-tank gun. As the riflemen had dismounted from their transport minutes before the attack began, they took the opportunity to take cover in the hedges and fields nearby when the firing started and suffered few casualties. Some French sources, along with British eyewitness accounts of the fighting, report that two Tigers engaged and destroyed the transport of the Rifle Brigade and that it was not solely Wittmann's Tiger.Forty, p. 59] It is speculated that the second Tiger tank was positioned north of the main road, near the road junction to Tilly-sur-Seulles, and possibly out of fuel. Wittmann's Tiger continued into Villers-Bocage driving down "Georges Clémenceau Street".

There are conflicting accounts regarding what happened next and the number of tanks and vehicles destroyed by Wittmann and his crew. It is claimed by several historians that Wittmann's Tiger entered the town and quickly engaged and destroyed 3 M5 Stuarts of the 4CLY reconnaissance troop [Taylor, p. 23] [Forty, p. 60] , although other accounts, including a retrospect by Taylor [After The Battle Magazine 132, p. 34. Taylor states that the 3rd Stuart "may not have been taken precisely where I originally thought"] , dispute this [Allen, Chapter 12. "As Brigadier Hinde had been up in his scout car and had said that the town must be held at all costs. Major Aird set about reorganizing the defence. Some of the Queen's infantry had arrived with anti-tank guns and these, with tank troops were dispersed round the roads leading into the Square. To the south Lt. Simons, in charge of a troop of Honeys [the nickname given to the Stuart by British forces] , had had his tank knocked out by a mortar, so his patrol was drawn in."] and photographs taken following the battle only show 2 destroyed tanks on the main road [Talyor, pp. 23 and 35. The left hand photograph on p. 23 shows 2 knocked out Stuart tanks behind the destroyed vehicles of the Rifle Brigade. The right hand photo on p. 23 shows a 3rd Stuart with a knocked out halftrack behind it. The photograph on p. 35 is taken from the position of the destroyed Rifle Brigade vehicles and shows the lead Stuart tank as shown in the left hand photograph on p.23 but does not show the 3rd Stuart or the halftrack from the right hand photo on p.23, also the trees and the background do not match meaning that the 3 tanks where not on the same street.] , and then destroyed the 4CLY medical officer's half-track and the intelligence officer's scout car [Forty, p. 62] , although no wreckage from these last 2 vehicles are visible in the post action photographs. [Taylor, p. 35 see photograph] Following these events Wittmann's Tiger pushed further into Villers-Bocage and engaged the Cromwell tanks of the 4CLY regimental headquarters and the two artillery observation post tanks ("OP tanks") of the 5th Royal Horse artillery.Forty, p. 62. Artillery observation post tanks, or OP tanks, were otherwise standard tanks modified by replacing the main armament with a dummy wooden gun to make more room internally for radio equipment, maps etc., although it is unlikely that Wittmann or other German tankers would have realised this.]

Accounts differ as to the exact circumstances of Wittmann's disengagement. Drawing on testimony from British tankers in Villers-Bocage, the historians Forty and Taylor record that Wittmann duelled briefly and without result with a Sherman Firefly commanded by Sergeant Stan Lockwood before withdrawing [Taylor, p. 30] Forty, p. 64] while Bob Moore, of the 4CLY, claims a shot from his tank was responsible for denting the driver visor on the Tiger tank that forced it to withdraw.cite web |url=|title="The Sharpshooter" 2003 Newsletter, p. 18|accessdate=|author=The Sharpshooters Yeomanry Association|date=|work= |publisher=] Their accounts then report that this move brought Wittmann face to face with a surviving Cromwell tank, of the regimental headquarters, commanded by Captain Pat Dyas who had followed the Tiger down the road seeking a shot at its thinner rear armour. Dyas opened fire without effect, before Wittmann returned fire and destroyed the Cromwell. [Taylor, p.30 Dyas was thrown out of the turret but otherwise unharmed, his co-driver (in the gunners position) escaped from the tank but the driver was caught in machine gun fire as he bailed out. The Sharpshooter 2003 Newsletter, p. 18 states that the tanks actual gunner was also killed during this period.] Wittman's Tiger is then said to have continued eastwards before being disabled by a British 6 Pounder anti–tank gun, under the command of Sergeant Bray, on the outskirts of Villers-Bocage at the road junction to Tilly-sur-Seulles, [Taylor, pp. 32 and 34. A radio report logged at XXX Corps at 0945 hours records a Tiger being knocked out by an anti tank gun. Within the Rifle Brigades regimental history Sergeant Bray is credited with knocking out a Tiger tank] [Forty, p. 65] however in his book on the Rifle Brigade Major Hasting omits this and claims Sergeant Bray is credited with the destruction of 2 halftracks and an armoured car. [Hastings, p. 351]

Wittmann's own account however contradicts this sequence of events. He states that his tank was disabled in the town centre and photographic evidence, taken after the event, of the Tiger tanks knocked out in Villers-Bocage corroborates this position. [Taylor, p. 38. Quoting Wittmann's verbal account] [After The Battle Magazine, Issue 132, p. 31] This version means that Wittmann can not have engaged Dyas in the manner described above. Lieutenant Cloudsley-Thompson thinks that Dyas confused the sequence of events, believing instead that Dyas was hit by a shot from the Tiger as it traversed its turret rearwards whilst it advanced into Villers rather than meeting it head on as it withdrew.

Within the space of only 15 minutes, Wittman's Tiger had destroyed between 10-11 tanks [Forty, p. 66. 5 Cromwell tanks, 1 Sherman Firefly, 2-3 M5 Stuarts (not stated by Forty, see discussion on number of Stuarts destroyed above), 1 Sherman OP tank, 1 Cromwell OP tank] , 2 anti-tank guns and 13 personnel carriers. A further 3 tanks were destroyed by the two Tigers near Point 213.Forty, p. 66] While most accounts of the battle suggest that Wittmann and the crew of his Tiger were the only Germans to enter the town that morning, British eyewitness accounts suggest otherwise, with men from the 4CLY reporting German troops firing at them from the upper floor windows of houses within the town. [Neillands, p. 227]

On Point 213 Lord Cranley and Major Wright, of the Rifle Brigade, held a short conference where they decided to hold their position and await reinforcements. Lord Cranley attempted to organize an all round defence of the hill with the forces available: 7 Cromwell and 2 Firefly tanks of the 4CLY, 1 Cromwell OP tank of the 5RHA, two scout cars, three half-tracks, several officers and NCOs and around ten riflemen of the 1st Rifle Brigade. [Taylor, p. 41] Forty, p. 143] Around 1000 hours SS-Panzergrenadiers of the 4th Escort Company of Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 arrived.Forty, p. 73] The Panzergrenadiers began to engage and round up the men trapped on the hill, around 1030 hours Lord Cranley reported over the radio that the position was untenable and withdrawal impossible.4CLY War Diary] Within half an hour the radios in Lord Cranley’s scout car and in all remaining tanks were off the air and by 1300 hours the hill was fully in German hands. [Taylor, p. 56] Few managed to escape, Captain Christopher Milner MC of the Rifle Brigade spent the rest of the day on the run crossing back into British lines after dark, [Forty, pp. 147-148] whilst Corporal Hoar of A Squadron 4CLY, did not return to his unit until June 25.

Late morning and the afternoon fighting

Sometime following Wittmann's attack into Villers-Bocage, Major Wenck was on a reconnaissance mission for the Panzer-Lehr-Division to find out what the 7th Armoured Division was doing. After leaving his Scout Car he procceeded on foot until hearing tank engines. He crawled to cover where he found a troop of Cromwells abandoned with "all the crews up in front with an officer, looking at a map". Crossing the road, Major Wenke captured one of the tanks and drove off before the crew had time to react. Crossing the east end of Villers-Bocage he described the scene full of "burning tanks and Bren-gun carriers and dead Tommies". Arriving near German soldiers Wenck waved one over and together travelled to "Chateau Orbois" to deliver the tank. [Neillands, pp. 225-226]

By 1100 hours, the Panzer-Lehr-Division was reacting after receiving information (possibly from the scouts whom the men from the 7th Armoured Division spotted earlier, from Major Wencke or from members of the Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101) about the 7th Armoured Division's incursion

"Before 1100 hours... received orders to advance to the area north of Villers with every available panzer - about 15 - in order to prevent the feared strike in the division rear. The divisional general staff officer, Major Kauffmann, gathered all available soldiers from his staffs and other units in order to cover towards the south.
- Major Helmut RitgenRitgen, p. 47]

Major Helmut's force was then ordered directly from General Bayerlein to block all roads heading north from the town, in order to prevent any attack into the Panzer-Lehr-Division's rear. When the lead panzer reached the road to Anctoville north west of the town, it was destroyed by a concealed anti-tank gun and burst into flames. "We had run into the British all-round defence west of Villers."

Following the loss of Lord Cranley, Major Aird took command of the 4CLYForty, p. 152] and ordered B Squadron to hold the town at all costs, he then ordered C Squadron to move into the town to reinforce them. The 1/7 Queens was also called up into town to secure it following the initial fighting. Lieutenant-Colonel Desmond Gordon, the battalion commander, ordered A Company to the area around the railway station and B and C Companies to cover the eastern entrances to the town.

However the men were only able to clear the western half of town as men from the 4th Escort Company had already infiltrated into the eastern end of town. After some skirmishing between the two forces, Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon decided to pull his men back into a tighter perimeter. A Company were still positioned around the railway station, while C and D Companies and their anti tank guns held the town, with B Company placed in battalion reserve.Forty, p. 153]

Attempts were made by the 4CLY to send tanks up the main road of Villers-Bocage to take Hill 213. However, being fired upon and unable to make any progress, No. 4 Troop, commanded by Lieutenant Bill Cotton, was ordered to find another way to the hill. This was an unsuccessful trip which resulted in Cotton leading his troop into the town centre where he organised the defence and set up an ambush made up of his own tanks, a 6-pounder anti tank gun and riflemen from the 1/7 Queens.

Wittmann was debriefed at "Chateau d'Orbois" and was given a Schwimmwagen, so that he could return to his unit at Point 213. When they arrived they found that Karl Mobius, the commanding officer of the 1st Company, Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101, had arrived with his company of at least eight Tiger tanks. The two company commanders then discussed the upcoming attack which was to be made by the 1st Company.Forty, p. 74]

Heavy fighting for the town resumed around 1300 when the men and machines from the Panzer-Lehr-Division and the Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 attacked. The Panzer-Lehr-Division launched its attacks from the north while the latter attacked from the west.Forty, p. 75] Fighting continued for the next six hours.Forty, p. 76]

During these attacks, several Tiger tanks were taken out of action by the 1/7 Queens, two of which were knocked out by PIATs.

In the town centre, Sergeant Bramall, commanding a Sherman Firefly, spotted a stationary Tiger tank around the corner from his position in the adjoining road. Realising the only safe way to engage the tank would be to order his own to reverse a few metres and then line the gun up through two adjacent windows in a corner building, he did so. Making final corrections by looking down the barrel of the gun, his crew fired two rounds in quick succession but did not manage to knock the Tiger out. The Tiger then tried to rush past the ambush but was engaged as it did so by Corporal Horne, commanding a Cromwell tank, shooting into the rear of the Tiger, knocking it out. This engagement was immortalised in the drawing for the Illustrated London News by Bryan de Grineau. Sergeant Bramall went on to destroy a Panzer IV.Forty, p. 156]

During a lull in the fighting, Lieutenant Cotton and Sergeant Bramall went around the knocked out German tanks in their vicinity carrying bundles of blankets and jerry cans of petrol, setting fire to the tanks so they could not be recovered later. This action along with their bravery and skill during the defence of the town won them the Military Cross and Military Medal respectively.

"When things had died down a bit, Bill Cotton, sheltering under an umbrella, remonstrated with the French Fire Brigade for attempting to put out a fire in a disabled German MkIV tank."
-Robert A. Moore [cite web |url=|title="The Sharpshooter" 2004 Newsletter|accessdate=|author=The Sharpshooters Yeomanry Association|date=|work= |publisher=]

By 1600, the British were still in possession of the town after a spirited and determined defence. The Germans then put in another determined counterattack against the town supported by mortar and artillery fire. Portions of the attack were blunted but close street fighting continued. At the railway station the attacking Panzergrenadiers overwhelmed A Company, 1/7 Queens, and captured a complete platoon. Elsewhere they managed to surround the battalion headquarters.Forty, p. 76]

As the pressure built up on the defending troops, Brigadier Hinde reluctantly decided that the situation was becoming untenable and that the troops must be withdrawn from the town. Under the cover of artillery fire and a smoke screen laid by the 5RHA, the infantry withdrew from the town covered by the tanks of the 4CLY who withdrew last.Forty, p. 77]

The defenders of Villers-Bocage withdrew to Amaye-sur-Seulles, nearly convert|3|mi|km to the west while being covered by the tanks of the 5RTR. There, along with the rest of the 22nd Armoured Brigade group, they formed a “Brigade Box”, an all round defensive position.


"Further information: Battle of the Brigade Box"

Heavy fighting resumed the following day, with German forces attempting to crush the British brigade box. Although the Panzergrenadiers were at times able to overrun some of the British positions and advance dangerously close to the Allied field guns and tactical headquarters, each time they were repelled by infantry assault and devastating fire from the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry and American 1st Infantry divisional artillery as well as Army Group artillery. At times they were also able to call upon air support. The day ended with the 22nd Armoured Brigade group confident they could continue to hold their position and surrounded by approximately 20 knocked out German tanks and hundreds of German casualties. Allied losses for the day included three Cromwell tanks and light infantry losses. [Taylor, pp. 77-78]

Brigadier Hinde was confident the position could be held and used to regain the initiative, as the Germans were clearly suffering in their attempts to eliminate the box. Due to the unsuccessful attack by the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division at Tilly-sur-Seulles he was ordered to withdraw that night in order to straighten the front line. [Taylor, p. 77]

Lieutenant-General Bucknall had two infantry brigades to spare, which could have been used to reinforce the 7th Armoured Division in an attempt to recapture Villers-Bocage and force the Panzer-Lehr-Division to retreat. However, he chose to reinforce the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and their head-on assault against the Panzer-Lehr-Division at Tilly-sur-Seulles. [D'Este, p.187-88. Weigley, p.112. Wilmot p.310] He chose not to reinforce the 7th Armoured Division, as he concluded there position was now a liability, with its lines of communication endangered, and he had also learned that Erskine's men were now under attack from the 2nd Panzer Division. [Ellis, p. 255. Wilmot, p.310]

Operation Aniseed, the British withdrawal from Amaye-sur-Seulles, commenced at 0030 hours on June 15 under the cover of a RAF bombing operation on Aunay-sur-Odon and artillery fire in an attempt to drown out the noise of the withdrawing tanks and other vehicles. [Forty, p. 86. Taylor, p. 78] By around 0500 the withdrawal had been completed without incident, as German forces were too slow in reacting to the British move.Ellis, p. 256]

While historians such as Carlo D'Este state that the withdrawal from Villers-Bocage ended any British hopes of unhinging the German front south of Caen, Major Ellis, the official campaign historian for the British army in Normandy, notes that Bucknall ordered the withdrawal as only a temporary move. The withdrawal was to be made so that the 33rd Armoured Brigade could be moved up to reinforce the 7th Armoured for a renewed strike towards Evrecy after a few days rest. [Ellis, p. 255] On June 19, the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division finally captured Tilly-sur-Seulles and forced the Panzer-Lehr-Division to withdraw. They joined up with the 7th Armoured Division, who were holding the general line of the River Aure as far south as Livry while preparing for their second attack. With the storm that hit the Channel that day, all offensive operations were called off and this repeated attack from the 7th Armoured Division never materialised.

There were further repercussions due to the failure at Villers-Bocage. During early August, Dempsey used Operation Perch as one of the reasons to have Bucknell removed from command after several more poor performances from XXX Corps. Erskine and Hinde, along with the Commander, Royal Artillery and the Chief Staff Officer of the 7th Armoured Division were also relieved of their positions. This purge of the division had been on the cards since Villers-Bocage and over 100 men, including the four above, were removed from their positions and reassigned. [Fortin, p. 10. Forty, p. 104. Taylor, p. 84. Wilmot, p. 398] Historian Daniel Taylor states that the purge and Villers-Bocage being used as one of the excuses, was to "demonstrate that the army command was doing something to counteract the poor public opinion of the conduct of the campaign". [Taylor, p. 84]


Historians believe that a great opportunity to succeed and lead to an early capture of Caen was lost due to the actions of Bucknell. [D'Este. Wilmot, pp.310-311] The stalling of the push towards Evercy necessitated repeated operations to capture the city and to exploit the open terrain beyond. Major Ellis, being somewhat less critical, called the immediate result of the fighting disappointing, and states that with the stubborn defence of the Panzer-Lehr-Division and the unexpected arrival of the 2nd Panzer Division, the 7th Armoured Division "could hardly have achieved full success".

The failure of the operation led Dempsey to write there was "no chance now of a snap operation with airborne troops either to seize Caen or to deepen the bridgehead on XXX Corps front. It is clear now that Caen can be taken only by set-piece assault and we do not have the men or ammunition for that at this time". He later remarked that "this attack by 7th Armoured Division should have succeeded. My feeling that Bucknall and Erskine would have to go started with that failure. ...the whole handling of that battle was a disgrace". [D'Este, p.196]

While most of the criticism surrounding this battle is aimed at the British forces, Wolfgang Schneider has stated that "A competent tank company commander does not accumulate so many serious mistakes as Wittmann made".Marie, p. 159]

He criticises the disposition of Wittman's forces, including hampering their mobility by having his Tigers position themselves in a sunken lane and by placing a vehicle with engine trouble at the head of a stationary column, risking blocking all the other tanks. His main criticism is aimed at the sole advance of Wittmann into Villers-Bocage, he states while it may "seem brave" he notes that "it goes against all the rules". Not only was intelligence not gathered, there was "no centre of gravity" or "concentration of forces" and because of Wittmann's actions "the bulk of the 2nd Company and Mobius 1st Company came up against an enemy who had gone onto the defensive".

He sums up "The carefree advance of a single panzer into a town occupied by the enemy is pure folly" and states elsewhere that "Such overhastiness was uncalled for". Had Wittmann waited to regroup with elements of his Company and the 1st Company "Such action would have been more effective".


German propaganda was offered an opportunity to exploit the battle, as the British had lost contact with the forces on Point 213 and had withdrawn from Villers-Bocage they could not establish what exact losses they had inflicted or what had happened on the ridgeline.

They were able to claim that Michael Wittmann, who was already a household name in Germany before the events at Villers-Bocage due to clever manipulation of his actionsForty, p. 134] , was credited with the destruction of almost of all the British lost vehicles.Taylor, p. 82] His actual tally consisted of 5 Cromwell tanks, 1 Sherman Firefly, 2 M5 Honeys, 1 Sherman OP tank, 1 Cromwell OP tank two anti tank guns and just over a dozen mechanised transport vehicles. [Forty, p .139. Taylor p. 33, 82, 86-87 plus photographic evidence]

Wittmann also made a recording for radio broadcast late on the 13th, in which he described the events of his ambush upon the 4CLY. However, proving he did not take part in the afternoon attack and in part downplaying the stubborn British defence he reported "Subsequent counterattacks destroyed the enemy. The bulk of the armoured regiment and a rifle battalion was destroyed". [Taylor, p. 38]

The battle area was also heavily photographed and in one instance a photograph was doctored to show more British losses then were actually inflicted. An article in the German forces magazine "Signal", published in August 1944, about the fighting at Villers-Bocage had three photographs merged into one and captioned "Here ended an English armoured breakthrough on the road south-west of Caen". [Taylor, p. 37]

Regardless of the propaganda surrounding the battle, Wolfgang Schneider has stated that the actions undertaken by the schwere SS-Panzerabteilung 101 was "everything but awe-inspiring".

However the Germans were not the only ones exploiting the events surrounding Villers-Bocage. Lieutenant Cloudsley-Thompson and his crew after having their Cromwell knocked out, spent the day hiding in a basement within the town before setting off for allied lines during the night and eventually ran into elements of the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division. During his debriefing he recalls them stating that they "never wished to see another tank as long they lived!", which was later changed when the British press ran a story on them and the fighting to "The first thing the five tank men asked for was another tank." [Taylor, p. 39]

See aslo



*cite book| first=|last=After the Battle Magazine|authorlink=| coauthors=| series=After the Battle Magazine| title=Issue 132|publisher=After the Battle| date=| origdate=200?| isbn=
*cite book| first=Walter Douglas|last=Allen |authorlink=| coauthors=Cawston,Roy | series=| title=Carpiquet Bound: Pictorial Tribute to the 4th County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) 1939 to 1944 |publisher=Chiavari Publishing | date=| origdate=1997| isbn=0-95205-926-6
*cite book| first=Stephen|last=Ashley Hart|authorlink=| coauthors=| series=| title=Colossal Cracks: Montgomery's 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe, 1944-45|publisher=Stackpole Books| date=2007| origdate=2000| isbn=0-81173-383-1
*cite book| first=Major Ewart W.|last=Clay|authorlink=| coauthors=| title=The Path of the 50th: 50th (Northumberland) Division| publisher=Military Library Research Service Ltd | date=2006| origdate=1950 | isbn=1-90569-639-6
*cite book| first=Carlo |last=D'Este|authorlink=| coauthors=| series=| title=Decision in Normandy: The Real Story of Montgomery and the Allied Campaign |publisher=Penguin Books Ltd| date=2004| origdate=1983| isbn=0-14101-761-9
*cite book| first=Major L.F. |last=Ellis |authorlink=| coauthors=Lt-Col Warhurst & Butler, James| series=History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series, Official Campaign History| title=Victory in the West Volume I: The Battle of Normandy|publisher=Naval & Military Press Ltd| date=2004| origdate=1962 | isbn=1-84574-058-0
*cite book| first=Ken|last=Ford|authorlink=| coauthors=Howard, Gerrard| series=| title=Caen 1944: Montgomery's Breakout Attempt|publisher=Osprey Publishing| date=2004| origdate= | isbn=1-84176-625-9
*cite book| first=Ludovic |last=Fortin |authorlink=| coauthors=| series=| title=British Tanks In Normandy|publisher=Histoire & Collections| date=2004| origdate=| isbn=2-91523-933-9
*cite book| first=George|last=Forty|authorlink=| coauthors=| series=Battle Zone Normandy| title=Villers Bocage|publisher=Sutton Publishing| date=2004| origdate= | isbn=0-75093-012-8
*cite book| first=Major R.H.W.S.|last=Hastings|authorlink=| coauthors=| series=| title=The Rifle Brigade In The Second World War 1939-1945|publisher=Gale & Polden | date=1950| origdate=| ASIN=B000X890UK
*cite web|url=|title=Tiger I Information Center|last=Hamby| first=Alan|accessdate=2008-04-01
*cite book| first=Marie|last=Henri|authorlink=| coauthors=| series=| title=Villers-Bocage: Normandy 1944|publisher=Editions Heimdal,France; Bilingual edition | date=2003| origdate=1993| isbn=2-84048-173-1
*cite book| first=Lt-Colonel G.S.|last=Jackson|authorlink=| coauthors=Staff, 8 Corps| series=| title=8 Corps: Normandy to the Baltic|publisher=MLRS Books| date=2006| origdate=1945| isbn=978-1-905696-25-3
*cite book| first=Robin|last=Neillands|authorlink=| coauthors=| series=| title=The Desert Rats : 7th Armoured Division, 1940-1945|publisher=Aurum Press Ltd| date=2005| origdate=| isbn=2-91390-313-4
*cite book| first=Major Helmut|last=Ritgen|authorlink=| coauthors=| series=| title=The Western Front 1944, Memoirs of a Panzer Lehr Officer|publisher=Fedorowicz (J.J.)| date=1996| origdate=| isbn=0-92199-128-2
*cite book| first=Daniel|last=Taylor|authorlink=| coauthors=| series=| title=Villers-Bocage Through the Lens|publisher=After After the Battle| date=1999| origdate=| isbn=1-87006-707-X
*cite book|first=Russell F.|last=Weigley|coauthors=|title=Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaigns of France and Germany, 1944-1945|publisher=Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd|date=|origdate=1981|isbn=0-28398-801-0
*cite book|first=Chester|last=Wilmot|coauthors=Christopher Daniel McDevitt|title =The Struggle For Europe|publisher=Wordsworth Editions Ltd|date=1997|origdate=1952|isbn=1-85326-677-9
*cite web|url=|title=The Sharpshooters Yeomanry Association, "The Sharpshooters" newsletters| last=The Sharpshooters Yeomanry Association| first=|accessdate=2008-04-01

External links

* [ Battle of Villers-Bocage, German newsreel film]
* [ War Diaries of 4th County of London Yeomanry]
* War Diaries of the 8 (Kings Royal Irish) Hussars]
* [ War Diaries of the 11 Hussars (Prince Albert's Own)]

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