At 5.15 a.m. on June 11th, Regimental Headquarters and ‘B’ Squadron moved up through Bayeux to another orchard. There had been a small advance the day before by such of the 7th Armoured Division as had arrived, and the 5th Royal Tanks had pushed on as far as Ellon where they were held.

In order to make clear the bigger picture, it should perhaps be explained that this advance by the 7th Armoured was part of a southern pincer movement carried out by 30 Corps, while 1 Corps maintained steady pressure on the town of Caen itself. On the morning of the 11th, an attempt was made by the 7th Armoured Division to reach Bernieres-Bocage.

The reconnaissance troop, a mile beyond the village, had a Honey destroyed by a self-propelled gun. ‘B’ Squadron was carrying out reconnaissance on the right flank of the advance. which continued through Ellon and Folliot until open cornfields were reached on the east of the road to Bemieres-Bocage.

Here several British tanks were knocked out, but the ground was held and the 5th Royal Tanks, the 8th Hussars and the 2nd Essex remained in a position to cover the right Bank while the advance on the left was held at Buceels. Meanwhile, Regimental Headquarters and ‘A’ Squadron had to move from their orchard as spent armour-piercing shells were landing uncomfortably close.

The next morning, the Regiment was still in position watching the right flank of the Division. Whilst here, a ‘B’ Squadron tank was knocked out by a gun-in 7.5-cm. Pak 40 at about twenty yards. Four of the crew were killed and one managed to escape out of the burning tank, though wounded and was rescued by Trooper Raynsford who was in the following tank. Meanwhile, the advance on Tilly from the north and west was not successful and several tanks were lost.

The enemy, the Panzer Lehr Division, now started working back round Buceels, and, hearing that the Americans to the west were meeting little opposition and advancing on Caumount, General Erskine received orders to disengage and attack south-south-east through Briguessard and St.Germain to Villers Bocage.

The Eighth Hussars were to lead this attack, followed by the 4th County of London Yeomanry with a company of the 1st Rifle Brigade. The remainder of the 22nd Brigade consisted of the 5th Royal Horse Artillery, 117th Queen’s Royal Regiment, 5th Royal Tanks, two companies of the Rifle Brigade and the 4th Field Squadron, Royal Engineers.

At about 1 p.m. the Regiment moved out, ‘A’ Squadron in the lead. It was a hot afternoon and they drove down steep and narrow country roads in a cloud of choking white dust by way of Trungy, St. Paul du Vernay, Ste. Honorine de Duchy, La Miverie, and not until they reached Livry did they meet any enemy opposition.

Here, Lieutenant D. Rampf of 2nd Troop, ‘A’ Squadron, had his tank knocked out by an infantryman with a ‘Raketen Panzerbuchse 43’ the German answer to the ‘Bazooka’. Two of the crew were killed and Rampf and the remainder were wounded. At this moment the 4th County of London Yeomanry appeared on the scene, and Lt Col Goulburn asked them to put the company of the 1st Rifle Brigade, which was under their command, into Livry to clear the village. This they were able to do, but as it was by then about 8 p.m. it was decided to advance no further that night.

Meanwhile, ‘A’ Squadron was ordered to recce down the main road from Caumont to Caen as far as the Granville crossroads. Lieutenant Talbot-Hervey and Three Troop, ‘A’ Squadron, approached the crossroads and as they did so the two leading tanks were knocked out at point-blank range. Only one survivor out of the two crews made his way back to Squadron Headquarters to tell the tale.

Two years after this action the grave of Talbot-Hervey and his comrades was found under a pear tree, near where their tanks had been destroyed.

The Regiment leaguered near Livry that night and over on their right they could see the Americans fighting for the burning Caumont, which they occupied early the next morning.

The plan for the 13th was to advance on through Briquessard and Amaye-sur-Seulles to Villers Bocage. ‘A’ Squadron came under command of 131st Brigade and gave protection to the left flank of the advance. The rest of the Regiment, less ‘C’ Squadron, advanced as right flank guard to the 22nd Brigade, which was moving along the main road.

The track the RegIment was ordered to take proved to be non-existent so instead, they made for Cahagnes. On their way there the leading Troop of ‘B’ Squadron met a patrol of the 11th Hussars who warned them that Cahagnes was held by the enemy. To this ‘B’ Squadron paid no attention and, regardless of a few shots fired, pushed on through Cahaglles to Tracy Bocage only a mile short and to the west of Villers Bocage, where they were ordered to take up a line of observation north of the village.

Meanwhile, the main advance of the 22nd Brigade had met with disaster. They had entered Villers Bocage, meeting no opposition, but on arrival had met the 2nd Panzer Division on its way to attack them, and this unexpected encounter resulted in the leading units of the 4th County of London Yeomanry and the Rifle Brigade being cut off and overpowered.

Extremely close-quarter fighting then took place in the streets and houses of Villers Bocage, soon to be flattened by close-support bombing out of recognition. However, holding it meant there was a risk of the entire force being cut off, so it was decided to withdraw to the east of Amaye-sur-Seulles until the 50th Division on the left, could come up into line.

During the afternoon ‘B’ Squadron in their position at Tracy Bocage were attacked by infantry supported by a Tiger tank. They beat off the attack. losing three tanks in the process but suffering no fatal casualties.

By the evening, the 22nd Armoured Brigade Group had formed a defensive ‘box’ in the area north and south of the road through St.Germain, on the high ground east of Amaye, with the enemy attacking from every point of the compass. The line back to the Division was cut and as night fell the Group was surrounded.

This was fighting country very different from the open expanses of the desert. Here a Tiger tank could remain concealed until its target was at point-blank range. Here banks and tall hedges gave ample cover to guns and infantry. Here a brewed-up tank could block the road effectively for hours. It was the perfect defensive country, but the Regiment had not fought all the way from el Alamein to be held up only a few miles inland from the French coast.

After a moderately calm night, the 14th dawned, and at 5.30 a.m. ‘B’ Squadron moved out on patrol while ‘A’ remained with, 131st Brigade. Throughout the morning it became increasingly clear that the enemy infantry was closing in all round-the Brigade area, particularly from the south. Panzer Lehr in the north was patrolling towards them too but was being kept too busy by 50th Division in the north, to be capable of mounting a very heavy attack.

In the south, as was later discovered, the 2nd Panzer Division was on theIr way across to the American part to counterattack at the junction of the Brish and American armies, when they suddenly found themselves mixed up on their own centre line in the 7th Armoured Division’s attack on Villers Bocage.

By 11 o’clock the enemy renewed their shelling and put in an attack. This was driven off by the 1/7th Queen’s but the mortar fire continued. ‘A’ Squadron, in the Livry area, managed to work their way down to Point 198, a commanding hill two thousand yards south of the road to Villers Bocage, during which manoeuvre they lost three tanks, while Amaye was occupied by the 1st Royal Tanks and the 1/6th Queen’s.

The enemy continued to try to break through the defences from the Villers Bocage direction, but when he found himself unsuccessful there he turned his attention to the road behind it, and at 4 p.m, German infantry was seen a few hundred yards from the southern approaches to Arnaye.

‘A’ Squadron had by now been withdrawn from Point 198, and an enemy tank was seen making for the ground they had occupied. Although it was stopped, the infantry with it kept going until they were halted by Besa fire from the British tanks. That day Lieutenant M. M. Browne of ‘A’ Squadron was killed.

‘B’ Squadron was also engaged during the afternoon and knocked out two Mk. VI Tiger tanks.

The left flank of the Division in its ‘box’ position was uncomfortably exposed, and the attack by the 50th Division in an attempt to straighten out the line was making very little progress against the Panzer Lehr.

In spite of the thrust that had carried the 7th Armoured to Villers Bocage, far ahead of the rest of the line, it was regretfully decided to abandon the position as It was too difficult to hold without sufficient infantry support. The 22nd Armoured Brigade were to withdraw behind a firm base formed by the 131st Brigade in the Briquessard area, where they would be in contact with the Americans on the right and be able to send patrols across the lightly-held enemy salient between their left and the 50th Division.

As evening approached a general feeling of expectancy was in the air and occasional glimpses were caught of infantry and tanks forming up to attack. At 8 p.m. the Adjutant issued a warning to both Squadrons to prepare for an attack.

Half an hour later heavy mortaring started all along the southern and eastern edge of the position. One battalion the 5th Royal Horse Artillery were in the box and was firing at extremely short range.

The defensive fire was coming from both the 50th Division and the Americans in Caumont and further back. Shortly after this, an attack in Battalion strength came in against ‘B’ Squadron, supported by two Tigers and an armoured car and proceeded by a heavy mortar barrage. The British infantry suffered considerable casualties, but Four Troop and the Norfolk Yeomanry together brewed up the armoured car and one Tiger and caused very heavy casualties to their supporting infantry.

Several more company attacks were delivered all along the line but were also repulsed. The 5th Royal Horse Artillery had an exciting moment as at one time they were firing over open sights at infantry at five hundred yards, aided at a distance by the Americans and even the Royal Navy.

Until last light, the enemy continued these attacks on a smaller scale, but against such a concentration of tanks in so small an area could achieve no success.

During these attacks ‘B’ Squadron suffered several casualties including Lt P. F. de May killed and the Squadron Leader, Major Dunne, wounded, and Captain Robertson took over command of the Squadron temporarily.

During the height of the attack a German sniper, who had crept into the Regimental Headquarters orchard, was seen peeping through a window of a farm building fifty yards from the Commanding Officer’s tank. Heavy Besa fire was directed from the latter into the building until a message from Brigade Headquarters, over the next hedge, complained that flying tiles were causing them some discomfort!

The attacks petered out as darkness fell and there was an uneasy silence. At half-past midnight, in the dark and dust, the tired troops began pulling out. In order to divert the enemies’ attention an attack was made at about midnight by heavy bombers on Villers Bocage, and at the same time the withdrawal started, ambulances, infantry, trucks, half-tracks, carriers, anti-tank guns, self-propelled guns, artillery and tanks all streaming down one small road. The noise sounded tremendous, and it seemed impossible that the enemy should not know what was happening. To those inside the box, the noise was greatly exaggerated up until all conversation had been carried on in a whisper.

The anxiety of those last moments in the box was well nigh unbearable. ‘B’ Squadron was to hold the now tiny perimeter until the last. Each troop had a platoon of Queens under command and were stationed on one of the lanes leading out of St. Germain.

It was pitch dark and enemy infantry could very well have infiltrated between the troops. To the men of that rearguard, both Queens and 8th Hussars, the strain was greater than any during the last two days’ fighting. Not a man had had more than three hours of sleep a night for over a week of continuous action. Everyone would have preferred an attack to waiting and expecting one at any moment. The lines of vehicles moving out were endless.

Everyone was dead tired and time and again drivers ran into the vehicles in front of them. causing frequent hold-ups in the line. By one o’clock the diversionary aerial attack on Villers Bocage was in full swing, tremendous flashes lighting up the whole horizon, and the southern sky was full of parachute flares and the bursts of ack-ack shells.

The first vehicles of the Brigade had pulled out at midnight, and it was not until 4 a.m. when it was growing light that the first of the ‘B’ Squadron tanks left the village with the Queens riding out on the back of the tanks. Even then it seemed certain that the enemy would cut the centre line as they could easily have done. Indeed when ‘B’ Squadron saw a burning Bren-gun carrier it was thought that this was what had happened. But it was only one which had broken down and had been set on fire by its crew.

At last after what seemed an endless journey but which was in fact about two miles, the Squadron reached the outposts of the main line, and such was the relief that more than one tank Commander promptly fell asleep in his turret.

Of the men taken prisoner during the two days’ action, several eventually managed to escape.

By now ‘C’ Squadron had appeared in France. They had left Gosport on June 12th, the day before the flying-bomb menace started, and sailed that night, arriving on the beaches at Arromanches the next afternoon. On the 14th Major Huth, went to report to the Headquarters, 7th Armoured Division near La Butte. By now there was the heartening sight of many prisoners on the roads, and the Squadron leaguered that night in an orchard near Deraye.

Related topics

  1. A short history of The 8th Hussars
  2. North West Europe 1944-45 timeline
  3. Article: Across to France, June 1944
  4. Article: Operations in the Bocage, June 1944
  5. Article: Further Operations in the Bocage, June 1944