Notes: Op. GOODWOOD, General Dempsey, Lieutenant-Colonel Jackson, Captain Liddell-Hart

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    TNA Catalogue Reference: CAB 106/1061

    Context: Historical Section: Archivist and Librarian Files: (AL Series), WAR OF 1939-1945: North West Europe (1944-1945)

    Scope and content: Notes of conversations between General Sir Miles Dempsey, previously Commander of 2nd (British) Army, Lieutenant-Colonel G. S. Jackson, official Narrator and Captain B. H. Liddell-Hart, historian on the situation in Normandy 1944 July 18, operation "Goodwood".

    Covering dates: 1951-1952

    Note: See CAB 106/959; CAB 106/1024; CAB 106/1085.

    See also:
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    Mr Cordery,
    To take up and to mark "For Historians Only".

    Please don't show on the accession list.

    General DEMPSEY is most anxious that only "official" Historians should see his remarks.
    Lieutenant-Colonel NEAVE HILL has the only other copy.
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    Questions put to General DEMPSEY

    8 March 1951


    1. GOODWOOD was originally an ambitions project which, prior to its start, gradually became more limited in scope. This change was apparently not understood at all levels among the Allies. What was the aim of SECOND ARMY when GOODWOOD was finally launched?

    2. 8 CORPS was virtually halted by midday on 18 July - the first day - and had suffered heavy tank losses. Yet optimism prevailed throughout the remainder of the day at Main H.Q. SECOND ARMY and above. Was there any thought during the afternoon and evening that either regrouping or a fresh plan might be necessary for 8 CORPS to achieve its objectives?

    3. Was it hoped that the situation of 8 CORPS would be improved during the night 18/19 July by the Canadian capture of VAUCELLES, and that the enemy might even withdraw generally on the 8 CORPS - 2 Canadian Corps front to the South of CAEN?
    This might be borne out by the fact that once it was clear on the morning of 19 July that the enemy had no intention of withdrawing from the BOUGUEBUS area, orders to 8 CORPS at 0930 hours specified more limited objectives. These wee not carried out till 1600 hours - was 8 CORPS slow here?

    4. 2 Canadian Corps was ordered to build bridge across the ORNE in VAUCELLES by 2359 hours 18 July. They were not built however until 1130 hours 19 July. Thereafter the Canadians were even more slow. 5 Canadian Infantry Brigade was in FLEURY SUR ORNE at 1430 hours 19 July and by 1715 hours had captured Point 67. Yet 6 Canadian Infantry Brigade who passed through from CARPIQUET to exploit Southwards, did not cross their Start Line at FLEURY SUR ORNE - a distance of only 8 1/2 miles until 1500 hours on 20 July. What caused the delay? Was the presence of part of 22 Armoured Brigade (8 CORPS) in the BEAUVOIR FERME area an important contributory factor in it?

    5. Air Support at the Start of GOODWOOD.
    There was originally a request by General O'CONNOR for a second heavy bombing in the afternoon of 18 July, to assist the tanks as they began to reach the BOURGEBUS ridge area. This does not seem to have been asked for by Lieutenant-Colonel MURPHY when he presented SECOND ARMY's request at UXBRIDGE. Had it already been agreed at H.Q. SECOND ARMY not to press for it?

    6. Infantry was greatly needed by 8 CORPS in the areas overrun in the early stages. Would it have been possible to make use of the brigades of 51 (H) DIVISION or were they already earmarked for other tasks?

    7. About 1730 hours 19 July 8 CORPS was instructed that BRAS should be held firmly until handed over to the Canadians. A Chief of Staff Conference was called for 1100 hours 20th July at 0100 hours 20 July. These were forerunners to the wind-up of GOODWOOD, since about 1000 hours on the following day 8 CORPS was instructed not to continue the advance. When was the decision to wind up GOODWOOD taken and why?
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    1. As a result of certain gaps in the records available to the Narrators of Operation GOODWOOD, correspondence was initiated with the Commander of the SECOND ARMY, General DEMPSEY, in the hope that he might be able to supply the missing information. Following an exchange of correspondence, General DEMPSEY kindly consented to an interview with one of the Narrators at which he would answer questions and explain the general situation of the Allied forces in NORMANDY during the period in question.

    The interview duly took place at the War Office on Thursday 8th March 1951, and in it General DEMPSEY reviewed generally the events leading up to GOODWOOD, his intentions and method of conducting the Operation, and the results obtained from it by 21 ARMY GROUP.

    The Narrator went prepared with the attached brief of seven questions, which reveal the chief omissions in the records hitherto available. After perusing this brief, General DEMPSEY gave his views on GOODWOOD of which the following is a summarised version.
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    The situation of 21 ARMY GROUP before GOODWOOD.

    2. It must always be remembered that the NORMANDY campaign was conducted according to a previously laid down strategic plan viz:-
    to fight hard on the British flank, particularly around the CAEN sector - the hinge of the whole enemy defence system - and thereby attract the preponderance of enemy strength to that side (especially in tanks). As a result when the U.S. forces were in a position to start their breakout and envelopment, they would not find strong enemy formations opposing them.

    For the first few weeks after D Day it was a question of getting this strategy working as soon as the lodgement and build-up was firm, but after the heavy battles of EPSOM and CAEN and the overrunning of the CHERBOURG peninsula, it had begun to take shape. However there had also been some disappointments and setbacks (e.g. 7 ARMD DIV's failure at VILLERS BOCAGE and the supply difficulties due to the storm) and the enemy was beginning to reserve substantial reinforcements including infantry divisions which would enable his panzer divisions to be pulled out, become mobile again and so able to intervene on the American front.

    First U.S. Army about this juncture, in fact made a first attempt to break out and failed, since the frontage chosen was too wide for the strength of the U.S. forces employed. After this failure the C-in-C held a meeting of his two Army Commanders, Generals DEMPSEY and BRADLEY, at which the latter arrived rather dejected and remarked to the C-in-C that he had "failed". Whereupon F.M. MONTGOMERY told him not to worry at all, but to regroup, take his time and try again on a somewhat narrower front when he was fully ready. In the meantime, turning to General DEMPSEY, he gave orders that the SECOND ARMY was to continue to attack around CAEN, generally make the enemy believe that the main Allied breakout effort was to take place in that sector and so continue to attract the enemy armoured strength towards it.
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    The Sector chosen for GOODWOOD and the Plan of SECOND ARMY

    3. With the C-in-C's instructions in his mind the Army Commander recalled the earlier plan to break out East of the ORNE. The capture of CAEN had helped the administrative situation of SECOND ARMY, but units were still very cramped for space. Opening up the through communications between CAEN and VAUCELLES and thereby getting a trifle more elbow room East of the River ORNE would be a great improvement.

    Accordingly General DEMPSEY suggested to the C-in-C an armoured break out from the ORNE bridgehead using three armoured divisions, the break out, in view of the difficulties of terrain and the enemy's strong defences, being assisted by the use of mass bombing by A.E.A.F. The C-in-C was enthusiastic about this plan and promised that he would obtain the co-operation of the air forces by getting approval at the highest level. General DEMPSEY then informed the Narrator that to get this co-operation with the ground forces was always very difficult. Apart from the possible clashes of personalities involved, the R.A.F. and U.S.A.A.F. were far more concerned, as might be expected, with winning the war by long term strategic bombing offensives and were thus always reluctant, as it were, to waste time and effort in providing heavy bombing support to the land armies. In getting their help on this occasion it is probable that the C-in-C had to paint his canvas in rather glowing colours, and to magnify or even over-emphasise the results to be gained from the proposed Operation. Now the strategy employed in NORMANDY was never appreciated nor understood outside 21 ARMY GROUP in the higher echelons of the Allied Command and after some days of planning F.M. MONTGOMERY realising, that in these quarters the scope and aims of GOODWOOD were being misunderstood, informed General DEMPSEY that on this occasion he proposed to issue to him a personal directive concerning the conduct of the Operation an unusual practice for him and possibly the sole example of it). General DEMPSEY thereupon decided, for his part, that he would likewise give one to his Corps Commanders. These directives were issued on 15th July and 17th July respectively, and ensured that no commander taking part failed to understand the true aim of the undertaking.

    The Narrator at this point informed General DEMPSEY that the original SECOND ARMY Instruction issued on a wide distribution on 13 July specified that one armoured division was eventually to be positioned in FAILAISE, though as far as the participating formations were concerned this particular instruction was very soon obsolete and this mistaken order rectified. However as no cancellation of it was made generally it is more than probable that it provided the main cause of misunderstanding at S.H.A.E.F. level.

    Nevertheless so far as formations of SECOND ARMY taking part were concerned there was no misunderstanding of their tasks when GOODWOOD was launched.

    [The Army Commander had never before heard of this Instruction, and expressing surprise, asked to see a copy. This was duly forwarded for his inspection at the War Office on 13 March 1951.
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    The Aim of SECOND ARMY in GOODWOOD and its Achievements.

    4. It has been pointed out in Section 3 herein that the Operations of 21 ARMY GROUP were in pursuance of a predetermined strategy and that Operation GOODWOOD was 'initiated to further' it. It follows therefore that the main aim of SECOND ARMY herein was to strike so heavy on the Eastern flank that the enemy reserves particularly of army would be attracted and held there away from the American sector. Inherent in this aim was the intention also of causing as many casualties as possible to the enemy in men and material.

    A secondary aim was to complete the capture of CAEN by seizing the Southern suburb of VAUCELLES and establishing through communications and by virtue of the advance of 8 CORPS' tanks to gain more elbow room for SECOND ARMY. There was never any question of a break through and advance by the armour up to FALAISE. General DEMPSEY informed the Narrator that the had actually given certain geographical limits to the advance of 8 CORPS, since troops must always have an objective. In fact the three armoured divisions, broadly speaking, by the time that 2 CANDIAN CORPS had begun to take over the front, had virtually taken them all. This however was not of decisive importance, and the overall idea behind GOODWOOD was to strike a sufficiently hard blow to deceive the enemy into thinking that it was intended as the Allied breakout and advance on PARIS, thereby unbalancing his dispositions and making him prepare for an eventuality which would never arise, since 21 ARMY GROUP was later to make for the Channel Ports and ANTWERP, and not PARIS. In the event this aim was achieved, and the cover plan furthered greatly by the misunderstanding of GOODWOOD at the top, combined with the effects of F.M. MONTGOMERY's own comments at his press conference on the afternoon of 18 July. The enemy was completely deceived and reacted exactly as desired. Further, severe casualties in proportion to their strength were inflicted on the Germans and the famous movement of panzer divisions to and fro over the River ORNE inaugurated.

    [Narrator's note:- GOODWOOD also finally disillusioned the new enemy Supreme Commander F.M. von KLUGE who at its conclusion accepted the pessimistic appreciation by ROMMEL which he had hitherto rejected, and forwarded it to the Fuehrer with a letter expressing his complete agreement.]
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    Factors affecting the Conduct of Operation GOODWOOD.

    5. Apart from the usual factors pertaining to the Operation which are fully discussed in Section 2 of the Narrative, there were two which vitally affected the conduct of GOODWOOD.

    (a) Infantry
    [handwritten annotation to see point (c), in next post below*]

    Prior to the Operation the Army Commander was informed by his D.A.G. that the personnel situation was serious. Casualties in the early battles had been fairly high and at a rate beyond replacement. If therefore they continued at the same rate in the future, divisions and units would have to be broken up to supply the deficiencies. The Army Commander therefore determined to have as few personnel casualties as possible.

    (b) Armour
    The number of available tanks was high and if necessary the Army Commander was prepared to accept heavy losses in them, providing the losses in men were low.

    In the event casualties in men were light (except in the case of certain Canadian units) while tank losses numbered upwards of 500 which in view of his tank strength, the size of the operation and the effect it achieved, the Army Commander did not consider unreasonable. He would have been prepared to accept more.
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    General Comments by the Army Commander.

    (a) General DEMPSEY considered that GOODWOOD was highly successful. The CORPS plans were efficient and well carried out by formations with the possible exception of 7 ARMOURED DIVISION which he regarded as lacking in drive on this occasion, and in large measure responsible for the fact that the geographical objectives were not entirely gained.

    (b) The subsequent outcry at S.H.A.E.F. against the C-in-C coupled with the exaggerated press accounts resulting from the C-in-C's press conference, were from the point of view of misleading the enemy and strengthening the cover plan, entirely beneficial to the Allies.

    *(c) So far as prolonging the Operation was concerned General DEMPSEY stated that as soon as the armoured onrush had come to a halt and it was plain that only hard fighting by infantry would enable the advance to continue, the C-in-C and he decided to wind it up as rapidly as possible. In fact this decision was reached by the end of the first day and thereafter his attention was already centred on planning BLUECOAT. There were some minor changes of dispositions and some further small engagements before CORPS were informed that further major operations were to be called off but these were purely for local tactical reasons.
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    Notes of LIDDELL HART's conversation with DEMPSEY 21st February 1952

    Expanded edition to follow.

    22nd February 1952.


    Why did we attack on July 18 - and why at CAEN?

    1. Monty's plan never changed.

    2. Brad's report of failure - "go on hitting" - 10 July meeting

    3. My suggestion that I could break out.

    4. Necessity of hitting hard: attracting armour: killing.

    5. Need for expansion: more room: use of CAEN.

    6. Need for new airfields: the last area.

    7. "Tennis" over R. ORNE.

    8. Dangerous position on Left flank.

    9. Jumping off ground for advance towards PARIS.
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    Notes of LIDDELL HART's conversation with DEMPSEY 21st February 1952

    Expanded edition to follow.

    22nd February 1952.


    Why did SECOND ARMY use such tactics?

    1. Adam's warning. Inf. casualties.

    2. Task strength. (surplus)

    3. Armoured threat - bound to react.

    4. Ammunition shortage.

    5. Bad area for guns.

    6. [therefore] Bombers support

    7. Monty's note to me.

    8. My note to O'Connor.

    9. "Tac HQ" - to control - (if enemy defence collapsed (by about 1200) as thought likely)

    10. What would happen if opposition broken?

    11. Overstatement to get bomber support.

    12. Monty's reticence to Ike.

    13. Called off after 24 hours.

    14. Value of mis-appreciation by Press.
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    Notes made by Captain LIDDELL-HART on his interview with General M.C. DEMPSEY

    Operation GOODWOOD 18th July, 1944.

    DEMPSEY's expansion (18.3.52) of the notes he wrote down in brief form on 21.2.52. (Checked and Revised 28.3.52)

    I. Why did we attack on July 18, and why at CAEN?

    1. MONTY's plan never changed - his design from the start was to break-out from the Western (American) flank of the NORMANDY bridgehead.

    2. The American break-out attack (starting on 3rd July) had made small and slow progress, contrary to expectation. At a Conference in MONTY's caravan, BRADLEY frankly said that he had failed in this effort to break-out.

    MONTY quietly replied: "Never mind. Take all the time you need, Brad." Then he went on tactfully to say: "If I were you I thinkI should concentrate my forces a little more" - putting two fingers together on the map in his characteristic way.

    Then MONTY turned to me and said: "Go on hitting: drawing the German strength, especially the armour, onto yourself - so as to ease the way for Brad."

    3. After this Conference I suggested to MONTY - when talking in private - that I should make the break-out, and could do so. But MONTY did not favour such a change of aim.

    4. The primary consideration in the GOODWOOD plan was the necessity of hitting hard; attracting the enemy's armour to the Eastern flank; and wearing down his strength there - so as to weaken his capacity to resist a renewed break-out effort on the Western flank.

    5. But another consideration was the need to expand the bridgehead, which was becoming overcrowded as reinforcements and supplies were pouring in all the time. To gain more room it was necessary to capture CAEN, which blocked our expansion and was an awkward wedge in our flank. Its capture would loosen the enemy's hinge, and provide us with a firm hinge. ("Get a firm hinge" was a term I constantly used to impress the point.)

    6. There was also an increasing need for new airfields, and the best area for these was around CAEN - particularly on the BOURGEBUS plateau. To gain that airfield area had been a feature of our planning before D-Day.

    7. By striking first on one side of the ORNE and then on the other we should force him to bring divisions across, and be able to hit them with our air force in the process of crossing, when they were particularly vulnerable. I called this "tennis over the ORNE".

    8. Prior to GOODWOOD, our position on the Left flank remained dangerous, for the ground we had gained East of the ORNE on D-Day gave us a very shallow bridgehead there. It barely sufficed to prevent the enemy having our beaches under observation. From the high ground near BREVILLE, just inside our front, the whole stretch of the beaches West of the ORNE could be clearly seen. The Germans, rather surprisingly, never made a serious attack there to gain the commanding ground, but it always remained a risk until we expanded the bridgehead.

    Although this was not one of the definite reasons in prompting the GOODWOOD Operation, it was in my mind as a subsidiary benefit to be gained from such an operation.

    9. GOODWOOD also promised to gain a jumping-off ground for advance towards PARIS. This, too, was not a definite reason, but merely borne in mind as a prospective benefit.
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    II. Why did SECOND ARMY use such tactics?

    (NOTE: I think it right to differentiate between fact and surmise, and have therefore underlined those points which are surmise). I have every reason to believe they are true, but my evidence is only second-hand.

    1. Bill ADAM (the Adjutant-General) came out on a visit to NORMANDY, and in a talk in my caravan he warned me that if our infantry casualties continued at the recent rate it would be impossible to replace them, and we should have to "cannibalise" - to break up some divisions in order to maintain the rest. For we had put almost all our available man-power into NORMANDY in the first few weeks.

    2. By contrast, our strength in tanks was increasing all the time - tank reinforcements were pouring into NORMANDY faster than the rate of tank casualties. So we could well afford, and it was desirable, to plan an Operation in which we could utilise that surplus of tanks, and economise infantry.

    3. Another advantage of an armoured threat was that the enemy were bound to react - and mow their reserves to meet it. They could not afford to run the risk of a break-through by massed armour.

    4 - 8. We were suffering rather a shortage of 25 pounder ammunition, and the GOODWOOD area was a bad one for sustained artillery support, so it became necessary to depend on large-scale bomber support. To obtain this from the Air Staff and Bomber Command, who disliked being diverted to aid ground operations, MONTY felt it was necessary to over-state the aims of the operation. In doing this he did not take EISENHOWER into his confidence. But as an insurance against subsequent misconception, he said to me: "Let's be quite clear about this" - and wrote out a personal directive for me, headed "Notes on SECOND ARMY Operations". It was the first time, and the last, that he gave such a written directive.

    MONTY's "operational directives", so-called, were not really directives, but drafted for record (and for ALAN BROOKE's information) after plans had been settled in discussion between MONTY and me.

    MONTY wrote out, and gave me, these "Notes" on 15th July, and I gave O'CONNOR a copy of them. I also gave him a note of my own dealing more specifically with the opening Phase, and its objectives.

    9. At the same time I though it wise to visualise and consider what we should do if the German defence collapsed, as might well happen. I said to myself: "As it's more than possible the Huns will break, I will move my Tac H.Q. up to 8th CORPS H.Q. B 1200 hours we may get a report from the leading armoire that there are no more enemy in sight - and then what are we going to do? We must be prepared for that."

    I felt that the decision couldn't be left to the CORPS Commander - I must be up forward myself, so that I could take over and direct the exploitation.

    10. What I had in mind was to seize all the crossings of the ORNE from CAEN to ARGENTAN - the nearer ones with the Canadians, and the further ones with the armour - thus shutting off the enemy's main force, which lay West of the ORNE. The air, too, would have been concentrated on the crossings. I had these all marked.

    What would the Germans have done? First, probably, they would have tried to strike Eastward over the ORNE. If blocked there, as was probable, they would have had to retreat Southwards - the only course left open to them. I felt fairly confident of being able to check any Eastward attack on their part, once I had secured the crossings.

    The idea of such an exploitation was in my mind, but I did not disclose it to, or discuss it with, my subordinates. In framing the plan, I confined it and the orders to the opening Phase - of securing the high ground South of BOURGEBUS - in strict accord with MONTY's instructions. But it was always possible that the enemy's resistance might break down, and it was therefore necessary to foresee such a situation arising and be mentally prepared for it.

    11. The overstatement made to get bomber support unfortunately, if naturally, tended to have an adverse reaction, particularly in Air Force circles, when the attack didn't go further than BOURGEBUS.

    12. Misunderstanding was increased because of MONTY's reticence to IKE. But that was a habit of MONTY's and not special to this Operation.

    13. Once it was evident that the armour were not going to break out, the Operation became an infantry battle - and it was no part of the GOODWOOD plan to get drawn into a costly struggle of that kind. By evening, I saw that there was no chance of it developing into that enthralling battle which I had thought possible, and was ready to call it off - except for trying to get onto the initial objectives, which were necessary if we were to obtain a satisfactory tactical position.

    14. The Press interpreted the battle as a deliberate attempt to break-out, and one that had failed. Their misappreciation followed the view taken in various higher quarters, R.A.F. and American. Maurice CHILTON, my Chief of Staff, was very upset about it and urged me to take steps to check such a "slander". I told him: "Don't worry - it will aid our purpose and act as the best possible cover-plan." For I could see that such criticism would tend to convince the enemy that we were trying to break-out in the CAEN area, and would help to keep him fixed there while BRADLEY was mounting his fresh break-out attack.

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