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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Caen Captured

18 to 20 July 1944

Theatre: North West Europe
Location: North West France
Players: Allies: 1st Corps, 8th Corps and Canadian 2nd Corps of General Miles Dempsey's 2nd Army. Axis: German divisions including 12th SS Panzer, 21st Panzer, 16th Luftwaffe, 1st SS Panzer.
Outcome: Operation Goodwood resulted in the final capture of the French town of Caen and the attrition of German reserves, particularly panzer forces.

'In the face of the enemy's complete command of the air, there is no possibility of our finding a strategy that will counter-balance its truly annihilating effect.' - Field Marshal Günther von Kluge

General Dwight D. Eisenhower (left), supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, confers with General Bernard Montgomery (right)
General Dwight D. Eisenhower (left), supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, confers with General Bernard Montgomery (right)©
A British assault on Caen on 9 July 1944, preceded by a massive aerial bombardment, succeeded only in cutting the town in half along the river Orne. Meanwhile, US forces had made up for the loss of their artificial harbour during a devastating storm by liberating the Cotentin Peninsula and the port of Cherbourg.

To relieve German pressure on US positions, the British prepared a renewed assault on Caen. Operation Goodwood would take Caen and the country to its south east, preparing the way for a breakout to the south.

The German defence of Caen had been prepared in depth; Rommel believed that the town would be key to a landing in the Pas de Calais, which he continued to await. Rommel himself was injured on 17 July after his car crashed under fire; he was replaced by Field Marshal Günther von Kluge.

On 18 July, the area around Caen was heavily bombarded from the air. German resistance was unexpectedly firm, both in the ruins of Caen and in the surrounding villages. On 20 July, the British approached the crucial ridge of Bourguébus, overlooking the town; there the advance stalled. Once again, Montgomery's tactics were called into question, Eisenhower railing that 'it had taken 7,000 bombs to gain seven miles'. However, the sheer weight of the Allied assault had taken its toll on German morale.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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