Overlord'S Blog: Opening the Blue Coat
There's a famous quote by Bernard Montgomery that he wanted 1/3rd of the Churchill tanks armed with a six pounder gun. This may have had some impact on the 6th Guards Tank Brigade. In the run up to D-Day they rearmed all their tanks to the 75mm gun, including their Churchill MKIII's, but they were never deployed. The Guardsmen preferred the 75mm over the six pounder. Despite this they started rearming the required one third of their tanks back. However this may not have been enough and they still weren't ordered to cross the channel. Eventually the Brigade’s commander went to see the King, whom in turn went to see Prime Minister Churchill; Churchill then ordered the unit deployed. They landed on French soil on the 20th of July. Once in their marshalling area several officers visited tank graveyards to view the effects of German weaponry, their visits prompted a massive up armouring program across the brigade. Most of the time this was just spare track links welded all over the tank and turret but sometimes it was actual plate. There exists a few odd pictures of a Churchill MKIII*, a MKIII tank with extra armour on the front of the turret and armed with a 75mm gun.
On the 25th of July the US forces launched operation Cobra. Their famous drive to the south through the weakened German forces distracted by the British armoured drives to the east. Despite early success the operation began to look a bit shaky. The Germans on the high ground east of the penetration were causing some disruption with their fires into the flank of the advance. This ground was directly in front of the British 2nd Army, and on the 28th the US forces requested that the British deal with this problem.
A hasty plan was formed, and named Operation Bluecoat. It involved the 6th Guards, consisting of the 4th Coldstream Guards, 4th Grenadier Guards and the 3rd Scots Guards. The orders were to push the front line back to secure a better jumping off point, followed by an armoured force pushing through the Germans to capture the high ground and hence cut off the German 7th Army. The front line at that time was along a feature called Caumont ridge, which was eight miles west of Caen. The countryside was all bocage with a road network forming a rough triangle, with the tip at Caumont ridge in the north. The 6th Guards with the 15th Scottish Infantry Division were to assault into this area and capture it.
Due to the haste required no reconnaissance time was available, and on the 28th at 1900 the order to move out was received, with the first tank moving two hours later. By the afternoon of the 29th the Brigade was in position, and the plan laid out.
The first action of the day, after a pummelling artillery barrage was for the Grenadier Guards with infantry support to assault Lutain wood and Sept Vents, this frontage covered the top of the triangle. As they were the first wave Crocodiles and Sherman Crabs were provided.
The Scots Guards would then drive for a hill and a small settlement called Les Loges roughly in the middle of the Triangle. Meanwhile the Coldstreamers would drive down the west side of the triangle and capture the village of La Morichesse and hill 309 beyond. This would clear the road at the base of the triangle and allow the armoured breakout.
The quickness of the action caught the Germans off guard. The 326th Infantry Division had no warning of the impending attack, having been previously informed that they were only facing a few understrength American units. Then at dawn on July 30th a massive whirlwind of artillery fell on them, followed by a brigade of Churchill's. Almost instantly the officers broke and fled and although the infantry tried their best the wall of armour and Crocodiles brutally shoved them out of their positions. Five of the Grenadier Guards tanks were knocked out by mines, and two tank commanders were killed by sniper fire. One of them was the youngest member of the House of Commons. By 0830 both objectives were secured, it had taken less than 30 minutes.
When I say "Germans" it's not strictly accurate. The haul of prisoners consisted of Poles and "Russians". It is reported that two "Japanese" were also captured, although the former are more likely to be Eastern Europeans.
Next the Scots Guards and Coldstreamers moved out. However the next phase of the operation was dogged by one problem. Whilst the Churchill's could advance, often the Germans would lie low and let them pass. The following infantry were then ambushed and slowed. Add to that German mortar fire was also slowing the infantry down. To maintain the cover from the walking barrage that started at 0930 the Coldstreamers and Scots Guards advanced behind the bombardment, hoping their infantry support could catch up.
The Coldstreamers during their rapid advance captured a dressing station, manned by an Italian, who annoyed the Brigade intelligence officer by continually repeating "Me goes to England, you goes further away!" Despite this some valuable intelligence was gained from the prisoner.
By 1215 the Scots Guards halted and waited for the infantry to catch up. However after an hour there was no sign of the link up, so they decided not to capture Les Loges but instead swing around the position to capture the hill beyond it.
Part two will be next week
www.warhistoryonline.com, www.flamesofwar.com and www.kingsownmuseum.plus.com