The Bombing Of Caen

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by chipm, Oct 17, 2020.

  1. chipm

    chipm Well-Known Member

    I did a search and looked through the first 5 or 6 threads, but did not see mention of.

    Was it the intention of The Allies to bomb and destroy Caen (and hopefully lots of German Soldiers) or was it part of a plan, gone wrong, to bomb strong points surrounding Caen.?

    Or are some of the videos i see an exaggeration of what really happened.
    Did The Allies mount a bombing campaign of Caen with the intention of flattening the town and anything in it.?
    Thank You
    8RB likes this.
  2. idler

    idler GeneralList

    It was planned to bomb a number of choke points to impede the movement of German reinforcements. Bridges being buggers to hit, the choke points were generally road nodes - also known as towns - and rubble was the chosen impediment.
    17thDYRCH and Dave55 like this.
  3. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter 1940 Obsessive

    The bombing of occupied countries must have caused much soul-searching at the time...I find it difficult to believe that it would have been undertaken lightly. Has there been anything written about the decision-making process ?
  4. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Yes - see Baldoni & Knapp, Forgotten Blitzes - France and Italy under Allied Air Attack, Continuum Books, 2012. Has a lot on Caen. Before June 1944 such attacks would be decided on a political and strategic level and discussed in Cabinet (both in London and Washington) but after D Day decisions shifted to SHAEF and became operational and tactical. However Churchill appears to have tried to impose some constraints whereas Roosevelt considered that the French would be prepared to sustain civilian losses in return for liberation. Eisenhower was prepared to sacrifice French civilians to spare Allied soldiers' lives and Roosevelt backed him.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
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  5. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    In preparation for D Day,Harris was ordered to relinquish control of Bomber Command to Eisenhower as Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe who with control of the 8th Air Force determined the targets in support of Overload,.

    Harris was displeased at the decision since his motivation was to strike at the heart of Germany although the RAF had suffered unsustainable losses for the past 5 months to late March engaged in the so called Battle of Berlin.

    The effective date was 14 April 1944 and Initially the RAF continued to attack German mainland targets for a further fortnight but by the end of April were directed against French targets to hit German rail communications which they did successfully and on the night of 30 April/1 May 1944 destroyed a large munitions dump at Maintenon. The raid on large tank complex at Mailly le Camp in Eastern France was not as successful, although a great deal of damage was done to the complex because having marked the target with No 617 Squadron Mosquitos,the orders by the main force controller to follow up and bomb the target to the main force were blotted out by a US forces radio broadcast and heavy losses ensued.

    As regards Caen,the Canadian 1st and British 2nd Armies were stalled in front of Caen and were held up by well dug in German forces.A decision was made to try the effect of tactical heavy bombing.On 30 June, Halifax and Lancasters had successfully bombed an important road junction at Villers -Bocage,south west of Caen and this success encouraged further use of this tactic in the battlefield area.Consequently on the evening of 7 July, 450 Bomber Command aircraft controlled by a Master Bomber made an accurate strike on the German fortifications and although gun emplacements were largely destroyed,the forward German defences survived.This was due to the bomb line being moved back to avoid the bombing of British and Canadian troops.However the German defences had been destroyed enough for the northern half of Caen to be taken after two days of vicious fighting.Montgomery was sufficiently satisfied to arrange for another strike against German defences to be launched before Operation Goodwood. This was made on 18 July over 1900 aircraft of Bomber Command and the USAAF dropped nearly 8000 tons of bombs on Colombelles, an eastern suburb of Caen. The ground advance went initially well but bad weather and the state of destruction on the ground prevented a break out but Montgomery was able to claim that his efforts has enabled to hold the Panzers at Caen and relieve pressure elsewhere.

    Caen was well defended by the Germans and in the end it was the heavy bombing that provided sufficient support along with Tactical Air Forces for the ground forces to dislodge the Germans and lead to the ultimate breakout of British and Canadian armies.

    Despite the problems at Caen and the heavy casualties inflicted on the French civilians,heavy bombing continued and the last main force bombing operation occurred on 14 August when 800 aircraft bombed enemy positions in support of the 3rd Canadian Division advance on Falaise. There was tragedy here for the yellow identification flares lit by the Canadian forward troops were of the same colour as the target TIs and 70 crews inadvertently bombed Canadian troops despite warnings from the Master Bomber leading to 13 dead and over 50 injured.

    Other air operations in the Normandy campaign went to plan as ordered by Eisenhower,the programme of strategic strikes against the German oil industry and the V1 sites (first launch against Britain being 13 June 1944) Britain being recognised as important in the plan for defeating Germany.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
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  6. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter 1940 Obsessive

    I live in a part of Belgium where the towns around railway junctions took a lot of damage in the run-up to June does seem though that the intention was only to hit the communications...Caen and other towns in Normandy suffered far worse. Germany had shown itself ruthless since September 1939....perhaps it was necessary ? I struggle slightly with that sort of decision being made by governments whose own population have never been at risk...
  7. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Part of the problem was that neither the 8th AF or Bomber Command were anywhere near as accurate as they claimed to be - ok if you wan to flatten a whole town and its surroundings but not so good at say just hitting a marshalling yard or an outer suburb. Surgical strike was an unknown concept - they were just not capable of it.
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  8. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Caen and other nodes were targets on D-Day itself. It was probably a good thing that 3 Div didn't get there...
    These were intended as surgical strikes unlike the later 'preliminary bombardment' carpet-bombings.
  9. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Liberators dropping 160 tons of bombs is hardly surgical.

    Unless you take a medieval view of surgery - a lot of screaming, some pitch and the patient dies :glare:
  10. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Caen has rightly been described as the anvil of Normandy,it had to be taken to allow the British and Canadian forces the path to the breakout in the west and cross the lower Seine.

    The bombing of Caen and its immediate battlefield area came about from the requirement for precise bombing rather than area bombing. Caen itself was heavily defended by the Germans and the use of any bombing technique would have resulted in civilian casualties. There was no an option of leaving Caen to wither on the vine,it had to be taken if Montgomery's plan to be over the Seine by D Day+90 had to be achieved.

    The Casablanca Directive contained instruction to Harris and Eaker that when the Continent was invaded by the Allies armies,"you will afford them all possible support in the manner most effective".This they did and chose the option of heavy precise bombing for the Caen problem.It should be noted that there was already declining confidence in area bombing as a strategy by the British Air Staff and Overload was the opportunity to demonstrate the use of precise bombing as a specialised task.It has to be said that Harris's interpretation of the directive was somewhat different to the Americans.Harris still believed that Bomber Command should continue with its general offensive against main German cities. But by January 1944 as regards Overlord,he was prepared to recognise that "it must now presumably be regarded as an inescapable commitment" but discharged with minimum interference in the development of Bomber Command's area offensive. For success to victory in Normandy he would have to tow the line which he did.

    "Victory in Normandy" by Major General David Belchem gives a comprehensive account of the campaign and clearly illustrates the land battles and the support given by the Allied strategic air forces heavies in a task which was thought beyond the capability of the tactical air forces.
    Dave55 likes this.
  11. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    The bombing of Caen with heavy bombers so blocked the roads with rubble that the ruined town became a major obstacle to a British and Canadian advance. They still had to fight their way into the city. Using heavy bombers in large numbers proved counter productive.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
  12. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    This I referred to that in my post #5.That does not retract from the fact that Caen had to be taken to defeat the Germans in Normandy.

    The question of taking Caen without the support of the strategic air forces.How would that be achieved?..."using heavy bombers in large number proved to be counter productive" as you state.Where is the evidence that the policy of precise bombing was counter productive?

    On the issue of civilian casualties,the Germans would have never allowed the civilians to be evacuated if that was at all possible. Caen as it was,was part of the German defence strategy for preventing the expansion of any bridgehead.Rommel at the time of the invasion was confident that his forces were capable of pushing the Allied invader back into the sea.

    The result was that the Allies had to seal off Normandy from reinforcements by attacking his rail communications from the east and seal off the Loire from reinforcements from the south and south west...precise bombing of the Loire Saumur rail tunnel a few days after D Day and destruction of Loire crossings by the French resistance, by then incorporated into the FFI and hindering the passage of the Das Reich SS Division into Normandy ensured that the Allied plan for victory in Normandy was achieved.
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  13. idler

    idler GeneralList

    It's all relative. Disregarding the effects - we're talking intentions and plans - the pickle barrels of the day were four defined choke points, not 'Caen'. They were supposed to receive nearly 600 tons of bombs between them. (Unfortunately, I haven't got the target map as that wasn't what I was looking at at the time so I can't say if they were all in the city or not.)

    As it was, only about a third of the planes released on those target, mostly 1st Bomb Division as 3rd Bomb Division failed to meet up with their pathfinders. As AIR 1140 puts it:
    The other side of this is that rendering Caen impassable must have been seen as more help than hindrance. Perhaps we really weren't that interested in getting to it or through it in the short term?
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
  14. BrianHall1963

    BrianHall1963 Well-Known Member

    I have a friend who is a curator of a Pegasus Bridge museum, he told me that the RAF had order’s not to hit the cathedral in the city as it’s survival was linked to the British monarch. The cathedral stood . Must date back to 1066
  15. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    I suspect more by luck than judgement bombing at night from 12,000 feet. They managed to wipe out the ancient university
  16. BrianHall1963

    BrianHall1963 Well-Known Member

    I’m sure what was considered a near miss, look at the bombing of Merville batterie and the lads caught up by bombing there
  17. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    From the Pegasus archive
    The RAF bombing raid had, however, missed the Battery completely and their bombs fell away to the south, doing no harm to the Germans but landing dangerously close to the reconnaissance party.

    If any unit had reason to feel anger towards the Royal Air Force then it was the 9th Battalion. The aircraft that had brought them to Normandy had scattered their strength, the bombs that were intended to knock out the Merville Battery fell nowhere near their target, and so it added insult to injury, therefore, that on their way to the high ground, a passing formation of British aircraft mistook the Battalion for a German column and bombed them. Miraculously, no one was hurt.

    Apart from 617 and a handful of other specialist squadrons Bomber Command was not a precision weapon - it was a bloody big airborne hammer
  18. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    If one reads Death from the Skies by Dietmar Suss about reactions of civilian populations to bombing it was common after a big raid if a large building was left standing for people to say "oh they did that because they want it after the war!" I suspect that the story about Caen cathederal may have a similar source.
  19. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    I was recently looking for some of the 1944 Normandy pictures of Herbert Warhurst* - so came across this article in the Times...

    June 5th 2019 article in "The Times" - The full article is via Subscription - albeit as with many other such sites - they do offer a brief "free trial"...

    D-Day in Caen: The day I saw US bombers fill the sky | News | The Times

    * Nb. Aka "Bill Warhurst"

    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
  20. BrianHall1963

    BrianHall1963 Well-Known Member

    Im sure your right it was missed and the castle to they are close together. The books by Neil Barber Ann’s Stuart Tootal cover Merville in great detail

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