Battle of Caen

Battle for Caen, Normandy, France- Part of Operation Overlord

Date 6 June – 6 August 1944

The Battle for Caen (June to August 1944) is the name for the fighting between the British Second Army and German Panzergruppe West in the Second World War for control of the city of Caen and vicinity, during the Battle of Normandy. The battles followed Operation Neptune, the Allied landings on the French coast on 6 June 1944 (D-Day).

Caen is about 9 mi (14 km) inland from the Calvados coast and is astride the Orne River and Caen Canal at the junction of several roads and railways, the Orne and Odon rivers and the Odon canal, which made it an important operational objective for both sides. Caen and the area to the south was flatter and more open than the bocage country in western Normandy and the Allied air force commanders wanted the land captured quickly, to base more aircraft in France.

The British 3rd Infantry Division was to seize Caen on D-Day or to dig in short of the city if the Germans prevented its capture, masking Caen temporarily to maintain the Allied threat against it and thwart the possibility of a German counter-attack from the city. Caen, Bayeux and Carentan were not captured by the Allies on D-Day and for the first week of the invasion the Allies concentrated on linking the beachheads. The Anglo-Canadians resumed their attacks in the vicinity of Caen and the suburbs and city centre north of the Orne were captured during Operation Charnwood (8–9 July). The Caen suburbs south of the river were captured by the II Canadian Corps during Operation Atlantic (18–20 July). The Germans had committed most of their panzer divisions in a determined defence of Caen, which made the fighting mutually costly and deprived the Germans of the means greatly to reinforce the west end of the invasion front.

In western Normandy, the US First Army cut off the Cotentin Peninsula, captured Cherbourg and then attacked southwards towards Saint-Lô, about 37 mi (60 km) west of Caen, capturing the town on 19 July. On 25 July after a weather delay, the First Army began Operation Cobra on the Saint-Lô–Périers road, coordinated with the Canadian Operation Spring at Verrières (Bourguébus) ridge to the south of Caen. Cobra was a great success and began a collapse of the German position in Normandy; the Allied break-out led to the Battle of the Falaise Pocket (12–21 August), which trapped most of the remnants of the 7th Army and 5th Panzer Army (formerly Panzergruppe West), which opened the way to the Seine and Paris.

The city of Caen was destroyed by Allied bombing which, with the damage from ground combat, caused many French civilian casualties. After the battle little of the pre-war city remained and reconstruction of the city lasted until 1962.

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