Fighting around Caen, Normandy (1944) – Wehrmacht and Waffen SS

Caen Normandy 1944The Battle for Caen from June–August 1944 was between Allied forces of the mainly Anglo-Canadian Second Army and German forces of Panzergruppe West during the Battle of Normandy. Caen, one of the largest cities in Normandy, was an important Allied objective because it lay astride the Orne River and Caen Canal; these two water obstacles could strengthen a German defensive position if not crossed. Caen was also a road hub, and the side which held it could shift forces rapidly. The area around Caen was largely open, compared to the bocage country in the west of Normandy and was valuable land for airfields.

The Allied plan was for the British 3rd Infantry Division to seize Caen on D-Day, 6 June 1944. Caen was not taken and from June to August, the Anglo-Canadians attacked the German defences around Caen and captured the town in a series of mutually-costly battles. Caen north of the Orne fell during Operation Charnwood (8–9 July) and the suburbs south of the river were captured by the Canadians in Operation Atlantic (18–20 July). The fighting for the city also caused considerable French civilian casualties.

After several costly and indecisive attacks, the First US Army broke through the German defences during Operation Cobra (25–31 July), which coincided with the Canadian Operation Spring south of Caen from 25–27 July. The US attack began a collapse of the German position in Normandy. The US breakthrough was reinforced by Operation Bluecoat and a German counter-offensive at Mortain was defeated by the US First Army. The First Canadian Army attacked south of Caen in Operation Totalise and Operation Tractable, which led to the capture of Falaise from 16 August. The old city of Caen, with many buildings dating back to the Middle Ages, had been destroyed by Allied bombing and the ground fighting. The reconstruction of Caen lasted until 1962 and little of the pre-war city remained.

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