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Posted on Mar 10, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

Operation Bluecoat – Opening The Way From Normandy

By Wild Bill Wilder

Looking for an easier Way

On the second day, the fighting and the advancing continued along the entire front of the VIII Corps. The Recon group of the 11th, the 2nd Household Cavalry was given careful orders from Generals Roberts and O’Connor. They would begin to search for a gap in the enemy lines that might be exploited by the powerful British armored force. The Squadron split up and immediately began to search to the south. Skirting St. Martin on either side, the units moved ahead looking for an opening.


British armour advancing during Operation Bluecoat

Picture – Imperial War Museum

On their way they found plenty of Germans. For the most part he was haggard, unshaven, and had no fight left. Too often he wanted to surrender to the Scouting units. Instead they were sent ahead to find the British front lines to give themselves up.

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All during the day on the 31st the different troops of the Squadron darted up and down secondary roads, scouting for enemy activity and for an opening in the enemy lines. They occasionally got more than they bargained for. Squadrons 4 and 5 were ambushed shortly after reaching the main road south of St. Martin. Lt. Petherick had his Daimler Scout shot out from under him. He was only able to escape being taken prisoner by climbing on the back of another Daimler driven by Corporal of Horse Cridland. His crew, all injured were later captured, but survived the war.

Another unit, 4 Troop of D Squadron, led by Lt. W. A. Ainsworth headed south toward the Souleuvre River. He used the cover of the hills to protect his command and sent out continuous reports of enemy movement and locations. Arriving at Les Houdan, Ainsworth spotted three or more Tiger tanks headed north and quickly sent in a report.

Now at a T-junction in the road, the lieutenant guarded the way and sent Corporal Bugby forward to reconnoiter the town. Coming to the outskirts of the village, Bugby ran smack into an entire company of German infantry guarding a still intact bridge across the river. Engaging them with his Bren gun. Suddenly a warning barked through the radio, “Retire at once! Enemy tank advancing on you. Had laid down smoke.

It took no further urging for the corporal to beat a hasty retreat. He quickly joined up with the troop commander and together they carefully backed out of the junction and through the thick smoke laid down by Ainsworth’s multiple grenade dischargers. About 10 seconds later a very angry Panther tank snarled through the intersection without sighting them. It had been a very close call for the troopers.

Lieutenant D. B. Powle at the head of C Squadron’s 1 Troop had lost two of his vehicles due to mechanical failures after leaving Dampierre. Now with the two remaining he moved ahead at top speed. Near Les Houdan, he spotted a hidden 88mm gun and supporting infantry. Knowing his chances there in a firefight were suicidal, he continued on his mission.

Suddenly he spotted an enemy SdKfz 222 blazing south along the main road. Instead of firing on it, Powle and the companion Daimler pulled in behind him and began following him. The resemblance of the 222 to the Daimler caused passing German infantry to ignore it. Some probably thought that it was simply captured Allied equipment, which at that time was in frequent use by the Germans. For the casual passerby, there was no reason to suspect the two dust-covered cars roaring along behind the unmistakably German vehicle were not part of the same unit.

Finding himself traveling through heavy woodlands, Powle realized he was passing through the Foret l’Eveque. His map told him that in due course he would come to a bridge across the Souleuvre, just above its confluence with the Vire. When the German car turned left, the British cars continued straight ahead. In less than thirty minutes, the two British armored cars were at the bridge. The car commanded by Sgt. Bland moved across. Only one sentry was on duty, which Bland immediately killed. It seemed very strange to Powle and his men that such an important bridge would be so lightly guarded.

What they did not know was this area was at the junction between the boundary of the German LXXIV Corps and the II Parachute Corps. Even more startling, it was the dividing line between Panzer Group West and the Seventh Army. Neither group had considered itself responsible for this area. The result was that an extremely sensitive sector of the line lay totally unprotected.

Urgently Powle tried to communicate this find to the higher authorities but had a hard time convincing them of what he had. Later that day two troops of C Squadron, Northamptonshire Yeomanry arrived at the bridge to help hold the position. General Roberts urged on the23rd Hussars and the Monmouths to reach the bridge. Though hindered for a few hours by arriving tanks of the 21st Panzer Division, the Brits were able to reinforce the area.

When Bluecoat ended on August 5th, no great breakthrough had been achieved. A good sturdy bridge over a key river had been taken and the enemy was again on the run. The stage was being set for further advances to the south. Such progress would hinder any German armor attempting to get to the American forces to the west by creating a large detour.

Finally, Bluecoat set the stage for the sweeping envelopment that nearly trapped the entire German army in the west at Falaise. It was hard fought, and costly to the British, but the job was done and they were moving ahead to end this dreaded war.

Bibliography

The Duel for France, Blumenson
Six Armies in Normandy, Keegan
Crusade in Europe, Eisenhower
Grenadiers, Meyer
The Battle Book, Perrett

Author Information:

Wild Bill Wilder, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, was introduced to modern warfare as a tot in World War II when his father and uncle went off to war in the USAAF. It was an experience that influenced him greatly throughout his life. After graduating from Toccoa Falls College in 1962, he spent the next 10 years in public service in various countries in Central America. He then worked in public transportation until his retirement in 1999.

Wild Bill now has even more time to dedicate to his passion – wargaming. In 1997 he formed a group called "Wild Bill’s Raiders." From small beginnings the Raiders expanded into five separate web sites and gave top-notch coverage to a number of popular wargames.

Bill has also been a vital part of the production of 13 different games, including SPWAW, Combat Mission, The Operational Art of War, and John Tiller’s Squad Battles series. He has authored over 1300 scenarios and campaigns for these and other games over the last nine years. At age 68, Bill is also a prolific writer, with his primary focus on warfare of the 20th century. To quote him, "Wargaming is a passion that never dies with the passing of the years. Instead it only intensifies as new and better wargames are produced. It is in military history that one finds often written in blood the glory and the grief of mankind!"

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8 Comments

  1. Re: Op. Bluecoat.

    hill 309 was NOT taken by 6th armoured div. but by 4th Battalion Coldstream guards (6th Guards Tank Brigade).

    This hill was originally assigned to the 3rd S.G, but due to their losses on Hill 226, this was reassigned to the Coldtream Guards of the 6th Guards tank brigade.

    source of info: My Father, main gunner ‘Skye’ tanks, 8 troop , 3rd Battalion Scots.Guards.

    Sgt Peter Findlay 2701168….his was one of the tanks destroyed on hill 226…the dead interred at Hottot les Bagues war Cemetery, Normandy.

    Eain Findlay.

  2. My Father served in” Findhorn” a churchill of the 3rd battalion Scots Guards B company ,is there any information regarding what part if any they took in the mentioned action ?

    • Findhorn Tank was in Left Flank Squadron, 12 troop. A churchill mk iv.
      source material? The National Archives and the war diary of ‘The 3rd battalion Scots Guards’.

  3. I can confirm that it was the Coldstream who took Hill 309 (now called Coldstream Hill). My father commanded Jaguar in #2 Squadron

    • Dominic
      Just come across your comments which I found of great interest

      I was a radio operator/loader on tank Cheetah of No. 2 Squadron and as such was obviously acquainted with your father. Our tanks were ones of the first to take up a defensive position on Hill 309 and awaited, rather nervously, for the arrival of the understandably delayed infantry.

      Regards
      John

  4. What is best source material?

    • Best source material?…
      The National Archives centre at Kew, London.
      P.Forbes book ‘the 6th Guards Tank Brigade
      Operation Bluecoat by Ian Daglish
      Operation Bluecoat ‘Over the battlefield’ by Ian Daglish….a more comprehensive book than the former.
      Charles Farrell A scots Guards Officer in Training and at War.
      Michel letenturier et George Bernages (?) A book in French detailing the Guards actions in operations Bluecoat and Grouse, against the 9th SS Panzer Division.

  5. I’m not massively knowledgeable on the history of World War two but my Grandfather Reginald John Cassidy served in the Scots Guards which I believe formed part of the Guards Armored Division. He was part of Operation Bluecoat and traveled from Normandy to the Falaise Pocket and eventually ended up in Berlin. His tank was damaged but luckily he survived and he traveled the last of the trip in a half track.

    I remember there being a documentary about Operation Bluecoat which my Grandfather showed me before he died and I’d love to find a copy. If any one may know where I can find this documentary or somewhere that might know I would be very grateful?

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