Operation Spring was an offensive operation of the Second World War conducted by II Canadian Corps during the Normandy campaign in 1944. The plan was intended to create pressure on the German forces operating on the British and Canadian front simultaneous with Operation Cobra, an American offensive. Operation Spring was intended to capture Verrières Ridge and the villages on the south slope of the ridge. The German defence of the ridge contained the offensive on the first day and inflicted many casualties on the Canadians.
|Part of Operation Overlord, Battle of Normandy|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Guy Simonds||Josef Dietrich|
2 infantry divisions |
2 armoured divisions
1 armoured brigade
|3 panzer divisions|
|Casualties and losses|
Caen had been captured on July 19, 1944, during Operation Goodwood, after six weeks of positional warfare throughout Normandy. About 8 km (5.0 mi) south of Caen, Verrières Ridge blocked a direct advance by Allied forces on Falaise. Attempts to take the ridge during Goodwood were thwarted by the I SS Panzer Corps (General Sepp Dietrich). The II Canadian Corps (Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds) conducted Operation Atlantic concurrently and captured the suburbs of Caen on the south bank of the Orne. Counter-attacks by Dietrich's Panzer Divisions stopped the Canadian advance short of Verrières Ridge and inflicted 1,349 casualties on the Canadians during the operation.
The second phase required the Calgary Highlanders to move from St. Martin to capture May-Sur-Orne and Bourguebus Ridge, securing the flanks of Verrières Ridge. In the third phase, the Black Watch would move from Hill 61 to St. Martin, assemble and attack Verrières Ridge with tank and artillery support. In the fourth phase, Simonds would move in armour and artillery to reach the final objectives south of the ridge, making a salient into the German defences.
The Germans were expecting further attacks on Verrières Ridge and sent reinforcements in the days preceding the attack. By the end of 24 July, 480 tanks, 500 field guns, and four more infantry battalions had been moved into the sector. Ultra decrypted messages signalling this and informed the II Canadian Corps HQ.
On 25 July, at 03:30, The North Nova Scotia Highlanders attacked Tilly-la-Campagne. Simonds had developed a complex lighting system using searchlights reflected off clouds, allowing the North Novas to see the German positions but this meant that the North Novas were visible to the German defenders. By 04:30, a flare was fired by the lead companies, indicating that the objective had been taken. Within the next hour, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Petch began to move reinforcements into the village to assist with "mopping up" the last German defenders. To their west, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, encountered determined initial opposition, managed to secure Verrières village by 05:30. At 07:50, Lieutenant.-Colonel John Rockingham reported to Simonds that his battalion had dug in on the objective.
On July 25, the Calgary Highlanders attacked May-sur-Orne and Bourguebus Ridge but found that the assembly area of St Martin was still occupied by German troops. Two companies of Calgary Highlanders bypassed St Martin and reached the outskirts of May-Sur-Orne. Radio contact was lost after that and both companies suffered many casualties. Late in the morning, the Calgary Highlanders secured St Martin and then attacked Bourguebus Ridge. After two costly attacks, the Calgary Highlanders struggled to hold onto May-Sur-Orne.
Phase III required careful timing, two attempts by the Essex Scottish Regiment and South Saskatchewan Regiment, had been costly failures. The tank and artillery support did not materialise and the infantry were four hours late reaching their assembly area of St Martin. The Black Watch ran into determined German resistance moving from Hill 61 to the village. When the attack began on Verrières Ridge, the infantry was fired on from three sides, the factory area south of St. Martin, Verrières Ridge and German units on the other side of the Orne. Within minutes, communications had broken down and the Black Watch lost all but 15 of its attacking soldiers. It was the bloodiest day for Canadian forces since Dieppe.
For several days German troops, mainly the 9th and 12th SS Panzer divisions, continued to chip away at Canadian positions gained in Operation Spring. The Calgary Highlanders eventually withdrew from May-sur-Orne and the North Nova Scotia Regiment were forced to retreat from Tilly-la-Campagne. German forces immediately counter-attacked at Verrières village but were repulsed. Over the next two days, the RHLI fought "fanatically" to defend the ridge, defeating dozens of counter-attacks from well-placed anti-tank gun and machine-gun positions. On 26 July, German commanders declared "If you cross the ridge, you are a dead man" to soldiers being deployed on the southern slope of Verrières. In their holding of the village, the RHLI suffered over 200 casualties. German counter-attacks managed to force the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, Calgary Highlanders and the Black Watch to retreat from May-sur-Orne and St Martin. The Black Watch support company and the Calgary Highlanders suffered many casualties as they were forced back from their positions.
Operation Cobra began on the same day and the Germans were unsure which was the main operation. Operation Spring was taken to be the main effort for about two days, because of the importance they gave to holding ground south of Caen, before realizing that Cobra was the principal effort and transferred troops westwards. Operation Totalize and Operation Tractable were launched in August and captured more ground against less opposition. The Official History of the Canadian Army, refers to Spring as a "holding attack" in that it was launched with offensive objectives but also firmly with the intent to delay the redeployment of German forces westward.
Charles Stacey, the Canadian official historian wrote,
This vital delay of forty-eight hours the bloodshed in Operation "Spring" had helped to purchase; though that operation certainly did no more than reinforce the already powerful effect of Operations "Goodwood" and "Atlantic". "Spring" was merely the last and not the least costly incident of the long "holding attack" which the British and Canadian forces had conducted, in accordance with Montgomery's plan, to create the opportunity for a decisive blow on the opposite flank of the bridgehead. There had been an urgent strategical need for it; and the urgency was strongly underlined in the Supreme Commander's communications to Montgomery. The opportunity had now been amply created, and the American columns, rolling southward from St. Lo, were grasping it to the full. But the heavy fighting on the Caen front was not yet over.
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