The Battle of Villers-Bocage And Michael Whittmann

by Daniel Russ on June 1, 2015

British_Sherman_Firefly_Namur

Sherman Firefly

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The Battle of Villers-Bocage took place on the 13th of June 1944, about a week after 160,000 Allied troops invaded the Normandy beaches. One Brigade Group from the United Kingdom, elements of the Canadian 3rd Division faced down on Panzer Heavy Tank Battalion. The Brigade Group was an ad hoc assignment, probably 5000 men cobbled out of the best infantry and armored battalions that could reassemble after the chaos on Juno Beach and shambolic traffic on the roads into the countryside. The Panzer Brigade was mostly 41 Tiger tanks and some supporting infantry.

 

Previously the Allied 22nd Armoured Brigade and the US 7th Armor tried to surround Caen and wait them out, but fanatical resistance on the part of the Germans kept the Allies from completing the circle.

 

It was a miserable showing for the Allied force and after several hundred casualties, the Nazis held the roads into the countryside that American and British planners felt were so necessary to support the supply effort for several armored corps headed eastward into the heart of Germany. The nimble Cromwell with a powerful engine was spry n the battlefield but the 75mm gun on the Cromwell tank was over matched by German armor. The armor exchange that day was 30 British tanks lost to German’s 15 tanks. The two to one ratio was partly the work of German tank ace Michael Whittmann.

 

Whittmann won the Knight’s Cross, and was lauded for 137 tanks kills. Three weeks after the Allies had landed in Normandy the Nazi’s were still dug in, holding a line that seemed impervious backed by an armor core that couldn’t trade with a Panzer. The day was not a total loss, though. General William Hinde ordered a withdrawal to a defensive bocage with hedgerows and a copse or two to place guns west of the town. The Nazi’s including a violent and ruthless group of Nazi Youth in the 12th SS Panzer Division staged a counter attack. The Brits, Canadians and the US repulsed the counter attack, and others days later making the assaults costly.

 

It took until August 4th to move the Nazis out of the town and free up the roads. It was here that a story about Whittmann emerged. He personally took out 12 to 15 tanks, Cromwells and Shermans. It is quite possible that this happened. But the story told to the Axis forces was that Whittmann was the reason the Allies could not take Villers- Bocage or Caen.

 

Partly true, but a battle cannot be won with a single tank, no matter how powerful it is.

 

At the end of the day, Whittman was killed by a Canadian or a British tank gunner firing the British 17 Pounder.

 

Here is the account, according to Wikipedia:

 

In 1985, issue 48 of After the Battle Magazine was published. In an article on the battle, Les Taylor – a member of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry during the war – claimed that fellow yeoman Joe Ekins was the man responsible for the demise of Wittmann. Historians have supported this position, and it became the most widely accepted version of events.[58] Stephen Hart provides additional details. He states that a Sherman Firefly, of 3 Troop, A Squadron, under the command of Sergeant Gordon and with Joe Ekins manning the main gun, were positioned in a wood called Delle de la Roque to the south of Cramesnil, and on the right flank of the advancing Tiger tanks. At approximately 12:47, they engaged the advancing German tanks halting their attack and killing Wittmann.

 

maxresdefaultGerman Tank Ace Michael Whittmann

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