Tilly-sur-Seulles was one of the fiercest battles the British faced in Normandy. It was on the eastern end of a defensive line held by the elite Panzer Lehr Regiment. The village held out for a number of weeks and involved many engagements. The final capture of Tilly-sur-Seulles was completed by the 2nd Essex Battalion which had had a bad time in Normandy.
From the 2nd Essex's position they had to cross 1500 yards of open ground, and that was uphill. Verrières Wood stretched from the crest line down the other side of the hill, and was in a perfect reverse slope position. The first 1400 yards was an open cornfield, the last 100 yards didn't even have the half grown wheat as cover as it was just a meadow.
Verrières Wood is the line of tree's in the distance, this was the view that greeted the men of the 2nd Essex.
There was meant to be tank support, however it never showed up, mostly in part due to confusion within the 7th Armoured Division as to their role. At the same time as the 2nd Essex was planning its attack the 7th Armoured had been tasked with an end run through a gap in the German lines. They were to pass around the western flank of the Panzer Lehr line, and to their date with destiny, as after their movement they were to end up a place called Villers-Bocage.
An artillery bombardment was falling on the woods to give them cover. After the first 500 yards nothing had happened, the tension was rising as they marched forward. The corn field was brightly light by the sun in the pure blue sky, if the Germans were in the wood they couldn't fail to miss them.
After another 500 yards the Germans revealed their positions. Showers of mortar bombs and tank HE started landing along the line. The men of the 2nd Essex continued to stride into the haze caused by the barrage, firing from the hip as they went. Whenever the scream of incoming shells was heard the line would throw itself flat, seconds after the explosions they'd scramble right up and continue advancing.
The English battalion pushed through the wood and found the Germans on the other side. Some had taken up defensive positions in a small farm that was assaulted and cleared by a single platoon.
However the Germans had a sizeable force in the next line of trees, so the Essex men held their position and dug in.
As German forces often did they launched an immediate counter attack. A battalion of tanks rushed at the battered Essex battalion. With only PIATs to stop them they tried their best but were running out of ammunition. The German tanks simply overran the line. However, the English soldiers held their ground, dug into simple slit trenches the battalion commander called the artillery down on his position, knowing his men would be protected by the trenches.
Equally at this point the Germans were running low on ammunition and were using AP rounds from their main guns in desperation. The dogged resistance caused the initial German attack to fall back. They carried on assaulting throughout the night, including at one point bringing up half track flamethrowers.
As morning approached the battalion Padre appeared at the front. The vicious fighting had been raging all night and numerous Germans had been cut down as they advanced, many were wounded and still in no-mans land calling out for help. The Padre began to venture out in the darkness, alone and unarmed, to rescue or if they were too badly wounded tend to them.
Later that morning the anti-tank company formed a screen, allowing the rest of the battalion to withdraw. After the infantry had swept their line of advance and pulled back the Carriers were bought up and hitched to the guns. As they did so the Germans spotted them and their withdrawal. Several Panther tanks began to take shots at the Carriers, however all the anti-tank company made it away without a casualty.
This time however supporting attacks covering the flanks would also be launched, and the 2nd Essex would be joined by 81st Assault Squadron. The 81st was equipped with the Churchill AVRE. They'd been part of the assault waves on D-Day, and had lost four tanks, two had drowned and two had been knocked out by enemy action.