Operation Windsor, 4-5 July 1944

Operation Windsor (4-5 July 1944) was a Canadian attack on Carpiquet airfield that made some progress, but left the Germans in possession of part of the airfield (Operation Overlord).

Carpiquet airfield, just to the west of Caen, had been one of the Allied targets on D-Day, but the city had been more strongly defended than expected, and the Allied advanced had stalled north of the city. The next major attack at Caen, Operation Epsom (26-27 June 1944) had seen the British advance on a narrow front further to the west, but the attempt to outflank Caen had failed. However the attack had forced the Germans to commit some of their reserves, and meant that Carpiquet was now in the front line.

The next attempt to capture the airfield would be made by General Rod Keller’s 3rd Canadian Division, which had suffered heavy losses on D-Day and its immediate aftermath, before being given a brief rest. Keller allocated four infantry battalions to the attack. The 8th Infantry Brigade (North Shore Regiment, the Regiment de la Chaudieres and the Queen’s Own were to attack the northern part of the airfield and Carpiquet village (to the north-east of the village), while the Royal Winnipeg Rifles were to attack the southern end of the airfield. The attack would be supported by tanks from the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, and the division artillery. The preliminary bombardment would also include fire from the 16in guns of HMS Rodney and the 15in guns of HMS Roberts.

On the German side the airfield was initially only held by around 150 men from the 1st Battalion, 26th Panzer-grenadier Rigiment, 12th SS Panzer Division, commanded by Kurt Meyer since 16 June (his predecessor, Fritz Witt, had been killed in action on 14 June). However the airfield was protected by large numbers of pillboxes and bunkers built during the long years in which the airfield had been used by the Luftwaffe. As a result every line of approach was covered by well protected machine guns. Just to the south the 2nd Battalion, 1st SS Panzergrenadiers from the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler were at Verson, from where they could support the defenders of the southern part of the airfield.

The attack began at dawn on 4 July 1944. The infantry advanced behind a rolling barrage, but the Germans responded by firing their own artillery at almost the same location, hitting the Canadians behind it. Even so in the north the Canadians got into Carpiquet village and captured the northern end of the airfield. This was the single costliest day of the campaign for the North Shores, who lost 46 dead from a total of 132 casualties.

In the south the Winnipeggers had less success. They had to attack across the open airfield, with no cover, into the fire from German machine guns. The Garrys committed their tanks, but lost half of them, and at dusk the Winnipeggers had to withdraw.

Overnight the Germans made a number of attempts to retake the village, supported by heavy artillery and mortar fire. One company from the Chaudieres was overrun and many of the survivors taken prisoner. After the battle it was discovered that some of them had been murdered by the SS long after being captured.

The last German counterattack was defeated at dawn on 5 July. The Canadians had suffered 371 casualties, from a total of 2,000 men, including over 100 dead, but they had made clear progress towards the capture of Carpiquet.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 July 2020), Operation Windsor, 4-5 July 1944 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/operation_windsor.html

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