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Operation Atlantic

The days immediately following Operation Charnwood were spent at the never-ending task of vehicle maintenance. On the 10th the Regiment got it’s first chance to observe a German Panther up close as the technical staff were able to recover an undamaged vehicle that had been abandoned by its crew. The men were able to note many interesting details not visible on a burned-out vehicle. This was believed to be the first operational Panther captured in Normandy and as such it was duly turned in for evaluation. On the 11th in yet another example of the application of “Military Intelligence” the Regiment was moved to a “Rest Area” at La Folie in the northern suburbs of Caen. As it turned out this was right adjacent to “Hell-Fire Corner” one of the most heavily shelled cross roads in Europe. Fortunately, the location was just out of range of the German mortars and most of the heavier artillery usually went just overhead. But the shelling went on 24 hours a day. By way of compensation the men received the first fresh Food (white bread) they had since landing in France 36 days before and it was very much appreciated.

On the 13th of July the regiment began to reorganize along the lines recommended in June. While each squadron would still have 19 tanks these were now divided into 4 troops of 4 tanks with a further 3 in the squadron headquarters. Each troop would now comprise 3 regular 75mm Shermans and 1 firefly commanded by the junior crew commander which had also been recommended. Later that day Sergeant Roy Lilley B.E.M. (British Empire Medal awarded for actions in England the previous year) the Senior NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) in the anti-aircraft troop, demonstrated his prowess with the Crusader anti-aircraft tank by downing one and probably a second German aircraft attacking the harbour. During this time and despite the constant shelling and regular visits by German bombers the men slowly began to see their overall living conditions improve. To be sure they were still living rough but mail was being received on a relatively regular basis, fresh food although still not plentiful, began to appear to relieve the boredom of “Hard Rations,” they received their second shower in 3 weeks, and had their first opportunity to exchange personal items such as towels, underwear, and shirts which by itself went a long way to improve morale.

In preparation for the upcoming battle that would see the final capture of Caen, and in a situation eerily similar Le Mesnil-Patry the month before the Regiment was given one day's

notice to participate in a rehearsal for a set piece attack with infantry closely supported by armour. The War Diary described the situation this way “As this show is being laid on at a very high level, and has wide strategic implications a great amount of secrecy is necessary in the preparation”. This is being carried to the extent that no one knows what is taking place.” Fortunately, and to the relief of all concerned the rehearsal, witnessed by Major General Keller the General Officer Commanding the 3rd Infantry Division was considered a complete success.

Major General Rod Keller

Operation Atlantic was the Canadian portion of Operation Goodwood which was designed to finalize the capture of Caen and secure the high ground beyond. This area is generally referred to as Verrieres Ridge by Canadians but also known as Bourguebus Ridge by the British. The 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade supported by the 1st Hussars would make a “left hook” around the North of Caen and capture the Southern industrial suburbs of Colombelles and Fauberg de Vaucelles which included a very large steel plant. C-Squadron would support the Regiment de la Chaudiere along the southern bank of the Orne River in the capture of the factory area of Colombelles and then work with the North Shore Regiment from New Brunswick to take Fauberg de Vaucelles. B-Squadron and the Queen’s Own Rifles would secure the left flank and take the suburb of Giberville. A-Squadron was to remain on the northern bank of the Orne and support the attack on Colombelles with direct gunfire. On the night of 17 July B and C Squadrons along with RHQ moved out of the harbour to the area around Blainville-sur-Orne the location “London Bridge” (a British portable modular type bridge) known as “Bailey Bridge” B-Squadron continued across the bridge to meet up with the Queen’s Own Rifles South of Ranville. C-Squadron joined the Chaudieres the next morning.

As with Operation Charnwood 10 days before the air force opened the battle by dropping more than 7000 tons of bombs on Colombelles which probably did more to hinder the attack than help. It virtually demolished the area raising huge clouds of smoke and dust rendering the area virtually invisible to the gunners of A-Squadron while at the same time making the ground almost impassable to the tanks of C-Squadron. The Chaudieres advance bogged down almost immediately as they attempted to dislodge the Germans from a two-story stone Chateau which guarded the northern access to the area. A second infantry battalion, the North Shore Regiment from New Brunswick trying to bypass the Chateau along the Orne River was also stopped. Resistance at the Chateau was eventually overcome in the late afternoon following a concentrated bombardment by all of the artillery units in the 3rd Division. However, between the Chateau and the final objective was a massive steel plant that had also been flattened in the early morning bombing. Under cover of a heavy rain storm the infantry, supported by C-Squadron to the extent possible given the terrible conditions, commenced their attack around 18:00. German resistance was not completely broken until the early hours of the next morning.

The B-Squadron attack with the Queen’s Own Rifles got off to a bad start as well as they lost 7 tanks in a German mine field. However, the attack quickly regained momentum and by late afternoon Giberville had been taken as had Demouville the next town South. In the process, they had taken as many as 600 POWs.

While 8th Brigade and the Hussars eliminated the resistance in Colombelles Major General Rod Keller Commanding the 3rd Infantry Division was under extreme pressure from the Corps Commander Lieutenant General Guy Simmonds, to "Get forward" and complete the capture Fauberg de Vaucelles at all costs. Late in the evening Keller committed his reserves ordering them to bypass Colombelles and by early on the morning of 19 July all objectives were securely in Canadian Hands. A-Squadron proceeded to cross the river Orne that morning to rejoin the Regimental harbour in Vaucelles. That evening amid reports imminent Counter attacks the Regiment took up positions on the high ground around the village of Ifs about 5 kilometres to the South. While the counterattacks did not materialize the Regiment spent a very uncomfortable night on the receiving end of heavy artillery, mortar, and concentrated bombing attacks.

Lieut. McLeod, Capt. Conron and Captain Powell examine a German Mk IV south of Caen

The final phase of Operation Atlantic took place on July 20th and 21st and involved an attempt by the newly arrived 2nd Infantry Division to capture the high ground south of Caen known variously as Verrieres or Bourguebus Ridge. This would be the first major action for the 2nd Infantry Division since the disastrous raid on Dieppe in 1942. In what was thought would be a relatively easy operation against a thin German screening force the infantry would advance behind a “Creeping artillery barrage and secure various locations along the crest of the ridge”. In fact, the infantry was able to seize their initial objectives but in a situation that was to become all too common in the following weeks the Germans immediately launched violent counter attacks supported by heavy concentrations of artillery, machine gun fire, and tanks that drove right in among the defending infantry. By noon on the 21st the situation had become grave. The Battalion on right flank with aggressive and determined assistance from the Sherbrooke Fusiliers were only just holding onto their positions in St. Andre-sur-Orne, while the battalion on the left flank having suffered nearly 100% casualties in its leading companies, had been forced out of the positions that they had captured the previous day the Beauvoir and Troteval farms. The two battalions in the centre of the attack had suffered more than 450 casualties in less than 24 hours and had been forced back almost to their original start line. The leading German tanks were now only about 1000 yards from the brigade headquarters in Ifs. At 18:00 hrs a hasty counter attack was mounted by infantry of the Black Watch supported be A-Squadron of the first Hussars and a heavy concentration of artillery. The attack proceeded well until the infantry approached the battered Beauvoir farm, here the German artillery was so intense that the infantry was forced to fall back and dig in at a position just below the farm. Seeing the infantry in trouble A-Squadron disregarded instructions to only provide gun fire support from a safe distance and advanced to their aid. This maneuver turned out to be a costly one with the Squadron losing 4 tanks destroyed and one badly damaged however it did stabilize the situation. Having expended most of its ammunition in the attack all but one troop of A-Squadron were replaced in the forward positions by elements of C-Squadron. The Hussars remained forward with the infantry until well into the night enduring a terrific pounding by German artillery and mortars.The Regiment spent the 22nd of July South of Ifs as a counter attack force before moving that evening back to Vaucelles to prepare for their next action the assault on Verrieres Ridge.

The area South of Caen known as Verrieres Ridge was the scene of much bloody fighting

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