RAF heavy bombers support Royal Tank Regiment

Avro Lancasters carpet bomb a road junction near Villers Bocage, Normandy, France through which the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions were expected to move to carry out an attack on the junction of the British and American armies. The daylight attack, by 266 aircraft of Nos. 3, 4 and 8 Groups, was carried out at 4,000 feet to ensure that the target indicators dropped by the Pathfinders were seen and 1,100 tons of bombs were dropped with great accuracy.

Avro Lancasters carpet bomb a road junction near Villers Bocage, Normandy, France through which the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions were expected to move to carry out an attack on the junction of the British and American armies. The daylight attack, by 266 aircraft of Nos. 3, 4 and 8 Groups, was carried out at 4,000 feet to ensure that the target indicators dropped by the Pathfinders were seen and 1,100 tons of bombs were dropped with great accuracy.

Wrecked German Tiger tanks in the rubble of Villers Bocage after the British had captured the town, 5 August 1944.

Wrecked German Tiger tanks in the rubble of Villers Bocage after the British had captured the town, 5 August 1944.

In Normandy the British Operation Epsom attack had pushed a salient into the German lines and they were now on the receiving end of sustained counter-attacks.

Sergeant Trevor Greenwood was a tank commander with the 9th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment, which had landed in France on D +16 and had then been in action almost continuously since D +19 (25th June). Even when they were not on the immediate front line they were still under regular mortar and sniper fire.

The area they were now in had been recently occupied by Germans, it was still mined in places and there were numerous ‘booby traps’ left behind. The German dead had been quickly buried and had not always been completely covered. The strain of being under continuous fire was beginning to tell. They had already learnt the warning sign of the ‘moaning minnies’ – the German nebelwerfer mortar. Then they dived in a trench under the tank, although at other times the only reasonably safe place was in the tank with the hatches down:

D +24 Friday 30.6.44

‘Stand to’ at 4.30 a.m. Jerry mortaring Grainville area heavily: seemed like prelude to further counter attack. We repelled him yesterday evening, and he may now have stronger forces. If he breaks through, our forward troops in salient will be isolated. Our area and Cheux seem likely places for onslaught.

Waited at alert for several hours, meanwhile keeping rigid lookout for enemy tanks. But nothing happened… thank goodness. Our vehicle (and selves) were hardly prepared for heavy action after yesterday: petrol and ammo … and sleep.

We were relieved by 7th [7th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment] early afternoon: seemed to be at least 2 squadrons! Was glad to see them. We retired to former base, behind Cheux and found B there: latter were on ‘stand to’. Had a meal and wash . . . and then sleep for hour or two.

Unfortunately, this harbour is surrounded by many of our 25—pounders … dozens of them. The nearest are less than 100 yds away, and firing towards us. They are firing ceaselessly, with frequent extra heavy barrages: noise indescribable: ‘hell let loose’ is too mild a term.

In spite of this most of us have slept for an hour or two since returning from front line. We are still well within range of enemy mortars and still receiving attention. This mortaring is devastating to the nerves.

Don’t know yet whether we will be required again today . . . but B are still here: they will surely go before us, having had at least a day’s rest.

Saw a remarkable sight this evening: tremendous procession of our four-engined bombers flew overhead, and dropped their loads just beyond front line (around Villers?)

Must have been hundreds of planes, but all over in about 10 minutes. Seemed to be very little Jerry AA and didn’t see a single plane destroyed. Shortly afterwards, a huge black cloud ascended and gradually spread towards us. Within an hour, we were literally in a fog: air became noticeably cooler and daylight partially obliterated, visibility about 200 yards.

Fine dust particles settled everywhere. This ‘fog’ lasted for about 2 hours. Heaven knows what we hit, but it must have been a mighty bombardment.

Believe enemy are grouping about 2 Panzer Divs in that area for heavy counter attack. Monty was here today and said ‘they will be smashed’! Maybe the RAF have already smashed them. Hope so.

No move … dug hole, and crept into it for sleep at midnight.

See Trevor Greenwood: D-Day to Victory: The Diaries of a British Tank Commander

Churchill tanks of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, advance through a cornfield, 28 June 1944.

Churchill tanks of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, advance through a cornfield, 28 June 1944.

A Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, supporting infantry of 8th Royal Scots during Operation 'Epsom', Normandy, 28 June 1944.

A Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, supporting infantry of 8th Royal Scots during Operation ‘Epsom’, Normandy, 28 June 1944.

Tank and infantry officers confer on a Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, during Operation 'Epsom', Normandy, 28 June 1944.

Tank and infantry officers confer on a Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, during Operation ‘Epsom’, Normandy, 28 June 1944.

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