3CLY soon found the fighting in Normandy very different from that which they were used to in the desert, Sicily and Italy. In particular the bocage country in Normandy consisted of small fields, thick hedgerows and sunken roads, very suitable for defence and unsuitable for armoured warfare. This meant that the armoured unit which came into contact with the enemy was, more often than not, the troop under command of a Lieutenant or senior NCO. The enemy armour similarly tended to fight in small packets
An A Squadron Sherman tank in bocage country
The role of the 4th Armoured Brigade, which 3CLY were part of, was largely infantry support with a squadron supporting an infantry battalion and usually involved close quarter fighting.
3CLY War Diary
16 Jun 44
A range shoot was carried out in the direction of the enemy but the Germans resented this and soon afterwards the Regimental area was shelled
17 Jun 44
At first light the enemy brought a sharp concentration of shell fire on the Regimental area and RHQ, who were in an orchard were forced to move back some three hundred yards towards A Sqn. This shelling continued throughout the day at odd times.
Casualties from shelling:- Cpl Greig, Tprs Legg & Gill all of RHQ, wounded.
18 Jun 44
Remained in same area and again at first light the area was shelled but it is thought that after this our own RA silenced the gun (or guns) that was worrying us. The weather was very bad and there was nothing to report.
19 Jun 44
Quiet all day. At 2115 the Comd Officer had to go to 4th Armd Bde HQ where he was informed that we were to come under command of 11th Armd Div and for a future attack and that on the following day we would be moving into the 8th Canadian Bde sector.
20 Jun 44
Same area until 1730 when the 27th Canadian Tank Regiment moved to our position and the Regiment then moved cross country to the woods at 954758, where it harboured and replenished for the night. On leaving the old area we were again shelled, but only a little. The new area was SE of CAMILLY
21-23 Jun 44
Quiet days and maintenance was carried out. A 'bus service' of scout cars was run to enable tank commanders to inspect a knocked out PANTHER in a nearby village.
Knocked-out Panther tank, the first we had ever seen at BRETTEVILLEEN-ORGUILLEUSE.
24 Jun 44
A Company of 4th KSLI visited the Regiment and exercises were carried out with the 38 wireless set. At 1800 the CO briefed all officers for the forthcoming attack on the river ORNE. For the attack we were to be in 8th Corps and reserve Bde, under command 11th Armd Div. The plan was very fluid and was to be supported by Royal Navy shelling, RAF and the RA. The role of the 4th Armd Bde was rear protection, also to clear certain villages should they be by-passed by the forward troops. The bridges at 971555 and 965555 were the objective of the Bde.
4CLY War Diary Villers Bocage
13 Jun 44
Regt move forward at first light towards VILLERS BOCAGE 8157, A Sqn leading, followed by A Coy RB. No opposition and A Sqn reach feature East of VILLERS BOCAGE (area 8358). Column split at 823578 by two Tigers, RHQ brewed up completely. A Sqn continue and take up battle positions. B Sqn hold town but unable to get through to A Sqn. 1000 - A Sqn surrounded and attacked by Tigers and infantry. Call for immediate assistance, but none could get through.
1030 - CO, who was with A Sqn, reports position untenable, withdrawal impossible.
1035 - All stations go off the air. B Sqn ordered to hold village at all costs. 4Tp B Sqn, with infantry and A/Tk guns under Lt L Cotton MM, after a 6 hour street battle, destroy 4 Tigers and 3 Mark IV.
1600 - B Sqn reports village still held by us, but infantry in area 820575. 1/7th Queens attack, but fail to clear opposition. B Sqn Leader (now acting CO) ordered to withdraw Regt to 780580. This carried out without further loss. C Sqn cover withdrawal.
Major IB Aird takes over command of Regt, Major EP MacColl 2i/c, Capt FA Jarvis MC commands B Sqn, Capt KH Hiscock commands C Sqn.
Missing: Lt Col The Viscount Cranley MC (CO),
Major A Carr (2i/c),
Major PMR Scott MC & Bar (A Sqn Leader),
Capt BWG Rose (Adjutant),
Capt RRB Brown,
Capt AR Smith,
Lt WF Garnett,
Lt DL Sellars,
Lt LP Hurley (UDF),
Lt PH Strode,
Lt RSA Ingram.
Wounded: Lt JSW Simonds MM,
Capt HIC MacLean (remained at duty),
Capt P Dyas (remained at duty)
Killed: 4 ORs
Vehicle Casualties: 20 Cromwells
3 Humber scout cars
1 half track.
14 Jun 44
Regt in reserve, two troops forward covering A/Tk guns. Nothing during the day.
2000 - enemy infantry attack at 785576. C Sqn go forward to seal break through. Enemy driven back with heavy losses.
2030 - Position restored, C Sqn withdraw to reserve.
15-16 Jun 44
0015 Regt withdrew to 730612. One Firefly drops out, but recovered later. One Stuart lost due enemy action.
Still in reserve. Reorganisation on two Sqn basis.
17 Jun 44
Shelled at 0030hrs; 2 ORs killed, 2 ORs wounded.
Capt FA Jarvis MC, to be Major commanding B Sqn; Capt KH Hiscock to be Major commanding A Sqn (temporarily commanding C Sqn until arrival of new CO). Lt L Cotton MM, to be Captain.
18 Jun 44
A Sqn re-forms and organises on a two troop basis.
19-20 Jun 44
21 Jun 44
Recce by CO of battle positions of 1 RTR, area 752645-756645-758651.
22 Jun 44
Recce by Sqn Leaders of 1 RTR area. New CO arrives at 2100hrs. Lt Col W Rankin takes command of the Regt, Major IB Aird 2i/c, Major EP MacColl MC, OC B Sqn, Major KH Hiscock OC C Sqn.
This account of the battle for Villers Bocage was written by Major I. B. Aird DSO, OC B Squadron 4CLY
On the afternoon of 12th June, 1944, the Cromwells of the 4th County of London Yeomanry were dispersed in the open fields to the north of Tilly-sur-Seulles, one Squadron keeping a look-out, the others resting after the bitter fighting before that village. lt was very hot and comparatively quiet. The Colonel, Lord Cranley, was away and there was vague speculation among the Squadron leaders as to what fresh orders he would bring back with him. They did not have long to wonder, for he was soon back and jumping out of his scout car, with orders to move immediately. We were in for a long march along a complicated route and an attack which the Regiment was to lead, and in which surprise was to be the most important factor. The objective was the township of Villers Bocage. Maps were marked and orders given, and in a short time the tanks were marshalled, the men glad to leave the uncomfortable and unpromising area north of Tilly, though a little dubious of the advance along a centre line so tenuous and thin on the map and with so much at stake at its end.
Cromwell tanks in Normandy
The axis of the advance was a narrow road along the extreme western flank of the British Army running parallel to the Americans. After 15 miles of jolting and dust the head of the column reached the main lateral road from Caumont to Caen and away to the right could be seen the ﬁres and smoke where the American First Infantry Division were ﬁghting to hold the ground they had made in their rapid advance of the last few days. On the left the 8th Hussars had had a tank destroyed and the leading Honey of the Regiment had been ﬁred on by an anti-tank gun from the east. As it was now dusk it was decided not to push on and the Regiment leaguered for the night in a ﬁeld to the north of the crossroads.
Early the next morning the advance continued, A Squadron leading, followed by some Honeys of the Recce troop and A company of the 1st Battalion, The Riﬂe Brigade. Then came RHQ, followed by B and C Squadrons, followed by Tac brigade. The orders were to push on as fast as possible, there being no further opposition from the crossroads area. The country was very close, the road wandering over switchback hills, gradually swinging east towards Villers. Within a few hours, the leading elements, moving fast, were in sight of the small town. From Brigade came the information that the place was clear of the enemy and the cheering villagers on the side of the road seemed to conﬁrm it. In consequence, A Squadron galloped through the town, seeing no signs of Germans, and reached their objective on the farther side, a hill which commanded the road to Caen. True, before that a troop leader had reported a German armoured car observing from a hill north of the town, but others had disputed this and the sign was disregarded. With A Squadron on the
objective and all seemingly quiet, RHQ moved over the River Seulles and into the main square of the town. Recce sent a patrol to the south on the road to Aunay, perhaps the deepest penetration into France that had been made up to that time. The patrol shot up a German car and captured the occupants, which included an ofﬁcer who volunteered the information that he was billeting!
Colonel Cranley now decided to go in his scout car to see how A Squadron and the infantry company were getting on and he left his headquarters with all its appendages covered by a troop of the Reece and some Greenjackets, instructing them to move into the main street towards the eastern exits.
For a short time all seemed quiet, and then the most indescribable confusion broke out. Up the street in front, Lieutenant Ingram’s Honeys and a dozen half-tracks of the Riﬂe Brigade were burning. The RHQ tanks started to move backwards down the narrow street. As they did so, spandaus opened up from the windows above and the street began to ﬁll with smoke and the noise of falling slates, punctuated by the sharp crack of an 88 mm. Out of the smoke trundled slowly a German Tiger tank. Major Carr, the Second-in-Command, ﬁred at it with his 75 mm. but, heartbreaking and frightening, the shots failed to penetrate the side armour even at this ridiculous range. Almost immediately his tank was on ﬁre, he himself seriously wounded and other members of the crew killed or wounded also.
The Tiger went on to shoot up the Sherman tank of the (gunners’) OPs with their poor wooden guns, the IO’s scout car and the MO’s half-track. The other three tanks of RHQ managed to shuffle into various turnings, but soon the troop leader’s tank was on ﬁre and also the R$M’s. Captain Dyas, Assistant Adjutant, commanding the remaining Cromwell, watched the Tiger pass him and began to trail it in his tank, hoping to get it from the rear, but by now it had encountered the more formidable obstacle of B Squadron and decided to beat a retreat. Therefore once more it was head on and there was no escape. The last remaining tank was set on ﬁre. Captain Dyas managed to escape and, ﬁnding the RSM’s tank which, although on ﬁre, still contained a functioning wireless with a microphone hanging out of the turret, spoke to Major Aird. Normandy villagers on the side of the road seemed to conﬁrm it. In consequence, A Squadron galloped through the town, seeing no signs of Germans, and reached their objective on the farther side, a hill which commanded the road to Caen. True, before that a troop leader had reported a German armoured car observing from a hill north of the town, but others had disputed this and the sign was disregarded. With A Squadron on the objective and all seemingly quiet, RHQ moved over the River Seulles and into the main square of the town. Recce sent a patrol to the south on the road to Aunay, perhaps the deepest penetration into France that had been made up to that time. The patrol shot up a German car and captured the occupants, which included an ofﬁcer who volunteered the information that he was billeting!
Capt Pat Dyas’s Cromwell tank after the battle
Captain Dyas managed to escape and, ﬁnding the RSM’s tank which, although on ﬁre, still contained a functioning wireless with a microphone hanging out of the turret, spoke to Major Aird, commanding B Squadron, telling him of what had befallen the troops in the eastern end of the town. As communication still existed between B and A Squadrons, Major Aird decided to take over control. He appreciated that the German tanks must have come in behind the tail of A, along the road from Evrecy, and that they now stood ﬁrmly between A and the rest of the Regiment. A Squadron with some of the Riﬂe Brigade’s half-tracks and anti-tank guns, therefore, was cut off. The Colonel, who was with them, decided to make a reconnaissance down towards the railway with a view to sorting out the situation and possibly ﬁnding a way back.
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 Lieutenant Simons, in charge of a troop of Honeys, had had his tank knocked out by a mortar, so his patrol was drawn in. Simons himself had had his wounds dressed by French peasants, who looked after him until he was recovered enough to escape, but he had little fresh information to give on his return. C Squadron remained on the high ground to the east of the town.
This was the position in the afternoon when A Squadron were attacked by Tiger tanks and infantry. The Squadron leader, Major P.M.R.Scott, MC, and his officers were conferring in a ditch with Major Wright of the Rifle Brigade when the attack was launched. The Tigers swept up the road from Villers in their rear, brewing up a few Cromwells on the way: the German infantry attacked from prepared positions to the east. Major Scott was killed almost immediately, most of the Cromwells were knocked out, and the oﬂicers and men trying to escape were killed or taken prisoner by the infantry. At that time, too, Colonel Cranley went off the air and it was presumed that he had been killed or taken prisoner. One survivor alone from among the troops on Hill 213, Captain Milner of the Riﬂe Brigade, succeeded in getting back under cover of darkness.
Cromwell tanks of A Squadron in the woods near Point 213 after the battle
The Germans must have been heartened by their successes and they prepared to attack the town. During the next four hours a curious battle developed in there, a battle which became a duel between Lieutenant Cotton, MM, commanding a troop of three Cromwells and a Fireﬂy, with some infantry and anti-tank guns from the Queen’s, on one side and three Tigers and a Mark IV on the other. Cotton’s own tank was a 95 mm not much use against armour, so he put it in a garage and conducted most of the battle on his feet, merely using its wireless to give occasional orders. At intervals there was torrential rain, so he carried an umbrella as well as a blanket, soaked in petrol, with which to burn any tanks knocked out.
The first Tiger was killed by a 6 pdr. which Cotton directed on it. Sergeant Bramall had a duel with another and eventually ﬁnished it off by drilling a hole through the side of a house with the 17pdr HE until he could see it, then administered the coup de grace with AP. Sergeant Lockwood and Corporal Horne played hide and seek with the last Tiger and the Mark IV, until they had set both on ﬁre. The French ﬁre brigade was an additional and surprising enemy, who could only with the greatest difficulty be prevented from putting out the ﬁres in the burning tanks. This minor victory was something paid back of the heavy score which the Panzers had run up against the Regiment, and it put new heart into the survivors.
German Tiger and MkIV tanks destroyed in the main street of Villers Bocage
After this reverse, the Germans must have given up the idea of further attack with tanks, for they now started to shell all they could see and the infantry in the houses and hedges became more active. A few hours before dark the order came to withdraw from the town to the village of Amayé-sur-Seulles, some four thousand yards to the west along the main axis, where Tac Brigade had been for most of the day. This was not easy, as part of the road was exposed to anti-tank and machine-gun ﬁre, while the sunken portions of the road were too narrow to allow a Cromwell to turn. Eventually, under a heavy barrage of smoke and HE by the American I55 mm’s and British 2pdrs laid just before dark, the Queen’s infantry and the two surviving Squadrons were extricated to leaguer in the village of Amayé. Tanks of the 8th Hussars were there, helping to remove an uncomfortable feeling of loneliness, and the L. of C. was being protected by 1st Royal Tanks. Fortunately the night was quiet, as there was much reorganization for Major Aird and his new Adjutant. The Regiment had lost its RHQ, and one Squadron complete, 14 oﬂicers and 100 men. The Rifle Brigade and the 5th RHA had also suffered severely.
Next day, 14th June, was a nervous, jittery sort of day. The Regiment, with the 8th Hussars and some anti-tank guns, were disposed in hedgehog defence of the scattered houses of Amayé, among which also lay Tac Brigade. On the right, 1st Royal Tanks were building up and attacking and 5th Royal Tanks were along the very sketchy centre line, some of them on the way up too.
On 15th ]une the shelling increased, but down towards Villers the RAF had started. It was the ﬁrst time that the men had seen the rocket-ﬁring Typhoons and it was a grandstand view, very heartening. In the early afternoon the attack came in from the north and north-east, this time through the orchards. The attack was by infantry, closely packed with tanks supporting. A full weight of artillery was brought down and the tanks opened up with Besas. The slaughter was intense, widespread and gratifying. Two German tanks were knocked out and the Regiment had lost none. The attack failed.
Later the Germans again attacked strongly, this time from the south-east. The 1st Royal Tanks took the brunt of it, but C Squadron, assisting the Queen’s were fairly heavily involved. The artillery gave full and merciless support, and eventually the attack failed as the other had failed, with many killed, more tanks knocked out, and nothing to show for it. Spirits rose, but the L. of C. was still too precarious and eventually the orders were to withdraw at sundown. The artillery were laying a concentration in the direction of Villers and as it grew dark, Lancasters came over to drop their bombs, the noise of their engines drowning the sounds of the withdrawal which went like clockwork. The 4th County of London Yeomanry were in leaguer at 04.00 hrs and everybody, dead tired, was asleep within a few minutes.