The defeat of the "Panther" 12-th SS Panzer Division in Bretteville-l'Orgeuse
Caen, this ancient city of Normandy, played a crucial role in the system of transport communications on the Norman coast of France. In fact, it was the main link between the Cotentin peninsula and the rest of France. Both the Germans and the allies understood this perfectly well. The main task of the British Army 3 Infantry Division was the capture of this city on the first day of the invasion - June 6. In addition, the main tasks of the Allied forces in this direction were the capture and retention of the airfield Karpike, located in the vicinity of Caen at a distance of 18 kilometers from the coast; access to the landing zones of paratroopers of the 6 British Airborne Division, which was able to capture a number of bridges across the River Orne; capture the dominant heights near Caen.
The Allies' attempt to take Kang on the move failed. The Allied forces were only able to capture the city on July 20, 1944, and the battle of Caen itself lasted until August 6. In many ways, the plans of the Allies were foiled by the German tank divisions. Already at 16 o’clock on June 6, 1944, the Germans entered the battle of the 21st Panzer Division in this direction. This was the only tank division that began to act against the landing forces directly on the day of landing. The division could not throw the British and Canadians into the sea, however, they seriously confused their plans, preventing Kahn from taking on the first day of the operation and giving other tank and mechanized units of the Wehrmacht and SS troops access to the city.
Having managed to stop the advance of British and Canadian troops on Kahn 6 on June 1944, the German command began to carry out a plan for a powerful offensive on this sector. 7-9 June, trying to improve their positions before the upcoming offensive, the German troops carried out several local counterattacks on the allied forces. As a result, the most stubborn battles were fought by Canadians, who fought in the area of the settlements of Rho, Bretteville-l'Orgeeuse and Norrey-en-Bessin.
Here the Allies first encountered the German Panthers, who during the battles in Normandy turned out to be a "hard nut" for them. In total, by the time the Allied troops landed in France 6 June 1944, the tank forces of the SS and Wehrmacht in the West had a total of 663 of the Panther tank in the West. This tank was distinguished by good frontal armor and a formidable long-barreled 75-mm gun, which made it possible to effectively hit all types of allied tanks. The only truly formidable rival for the German Panthers was only the British Sherman Firefly tank (firefly Sherman), re-armed with the British 17-pounder anti-tank gun (76,2-mm gun, 55 barrel length).
British and Canadian units could have encountered even more Panthers at Kan, but German industry could not produce this tank in the quantities required by the military. Initially, the Panther tanks planned to replace all Pz III and Pz IV tanks in combat units, but the pace of mass production could not meet the needs of troops in armored vehicles. In the end, the general inspector of the Wehrmacht’s tank forces, Colonel-General Heinz Guderian, after consulting with the Minister of Weapons Albert Speer, decided that only one battalion in the tank regiment should be re-equipped with new tanks.
The battalion should have included 4 companies with 17 Panther tanks in each. At the same time, the battalion headquarters also contained 8 tanks, an air defense platoon armed with a Mobelwagen or Wirbelwind ZSU, and an engineer platoon. Also in the battalion was supposed to have a technical company, equipped with various vehicles and evacuation tractors. In practice, the number of units in the German army never corresponded to the staffing table. So in parts of the Panzerwa there was an average 51-54 of the tank "Panther" in the battalion, and in the SS troops - the 61-64 of the tank.
The first appearance of "Panther"
The first appearance of the Panther tanks did not make a special impression on the Allies. The debut of a formidable cat on the western front came out crumpled and led to great tank losses. The first three Panther companies (approximately 40 tanks) arrived at the Kan front in the evening 8 June 1944. These were combat vehicles from the 12-th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Youth". The division was formed from more than 16 thousands of members of the Hitler Youth. 17-year-old members of this Nazi organization were called into it, who then received 6-month training. In addition, about a thousand soldiers and officers of SS veterans and experienced commanders from the Wehrmacht were transferred to the division. The division was redeployed to Normandy in the spring of 1944, at that time there were more than 20 thousand people and about 150 tanks. It was one of the most fanatically fighting German units. By 9 July 1944, the division lost in battles 60% of its original composition.
Arriving at the front on the evening of 8 on June 1944 of the year, the Panthers of the 12 Panzer Division of the Hitler Youth attacked the allies at night, trying to seize the town of Ro. The Canadian infantry, which was in the village, did not resist for a long time, retreating to Bretville, where the Germans were awaited by a well-prepared defense. When the German tanks approached Bretwil, they were met with a barrage of anti-tank artillery, tanks and hand grenade launchers. As a result, several "Panther" were hit and burned. Canadian Joe Lapoynt, who entered a duel with Panther, hit the tank with three shots from a PIAT grenade launcher, especially in this battle. The German infantry also did not succeed and was forced to retreat, leaving their tanks without support. As a result, the "Panthers" went after her.
Unable to capture Bretville and Norrey in a night attack from 8 on 9 in June 1944, the Germans decided to repeat the offensive in the afternoon. However, they failed to prepare a truly powerful blow to the allies, since the SS 12 Panzer Division engaged in parts. This development not only weakened the offensive capabilities of the division, but also prevented the organization of full-fledged cooperation between tanks, infantry and artillery.
At noon on June 9, the 1 and Panther 3 companies (approximately 25 tanks) took part in the attack on Norray. Another tank company covered their actions, firing from the spot. At the same time, the German infantry almost did not support the attack, most likely for the reason that it was pressed against its trenches by strong Allied artillery fire. As a result, the German tanks were forced to act with little or no support, accompanied by only two or three dozen soldiers.
"Panthers" rushed to Norway at maximum speed. At the same time, the 1 company tanks made a small stop and fired at the spire of the church, believing that Canadian observers could be hiding there. After that, the Panthers rushed forward again. The tanks had not yet reached the village when Canadian anti-tank guns opened fire on them. A transient battle took place. Although in this battle the German tankers destroyed a pair of guns, without losing a single tank of their own, the company commander decided not to tempt fate by ordering the tanks to retreat. The participation of the Panther 1 Company from the 12 SS Panzer Division in the 9 battle of June ended.
The beating "Panther" in Bretteville-l'Orgeuse
The Panther 3 company of the same tank division expected a much sadder fate. This company was commanded by Captain Luderman, who was urgently found to replace the main unit commander, who was wounded the day before. Very little is known about his personality; his name has not even been preserved in the sources. It is known that the 12 tanks of his company were advancing along the railway. At some point he gave the order to slow down and turn left, towards Norrey. According to Luderman, thus his “Panthers” were turning to Canadian anti-tank guns with their most protected part — their foreheads. However, in practice this order turned out to be fatal, only a few seconds passed and the shells of the allies flew into the Panthers, but not in the front, but on the right side. In just a few minutes of the battle the Germans lost 7 tanks - five destroyed and two shot down.
It all happened so quickly that the crews of the German tanks did not even understand who was shooting at them. The Panthers simply caught fire, and their crews tried to leave burning cars as soon as possible. Those who participated in this battle and survived later recalled him with horror. "Panther", commanded by Germany (the name and title is not preserved), was hit on the right side of the tower. The shell hit the gunner’s seat, causing a fire. Germani was an experienced tanker, before the battle he did not lock the lid of the commander's hatch. Thanks to this, he was able to leave the burning tank first. Gunner had to get out through the flames, he received serious burns.
The commander of another tank, the Panther, leaned out of the turret in order to look around and was killed by a direct hit by a shell. Another "Panther" got a lot of hits in the tracks and rollers, but managed to keep the course and somehow retreated to its original positions. Some of the 7 destroyed in this attack, "Panther" exploded the ammunition burst turret.
As a result, the remnants of the 3 Tank Company of the 12 Tank Division of the SS "Hitler Youth" retreated without seeing their opponent. Many tankers after the battle were shocked by what they saw and experienced. The commander of the company Luderman even had a nervous breakdown. The captain was sent to the hospital, where it took him several days to recover. One of the German officers who witnessed the beating of the “Panthers” in that battle, after the end of the Second World War, said: “I could then cry with rage and grief”.
Who in the end knocked out the "Panther"? Their killers were Sherman tanks from the reserve unit, which arrived to replenish the 1 Canadian hussar tank regiment. Among the 9 arrivals, tanks were somewhat in the Firefly (Firefly) modification, armed with long-barreled 76,2-mm guns that perfectly penetrated any of the German tanks. It was this allied tank that could fight on equal terms with the German Panthers and Tigers. An armor-piercing projectile of the English 17-pound cannon accelerated to 884 m / s, a sabot projectile - to 1204 m / s. At the same time, at a distance of 900 meters, an ordinary armor-piercing projectile of this weapon was piercing armor 110 mm thick, located at an angle of 30 degrees. An armor-piercing with a ballistic tip under the same conditions - 131 mm of armor, and a sabot projectile - 192 mm. This was more than enough to fight the Panther tank.
When the German tankers went on the attack on the Norrey, the Shermans were located in the neighborhood, not far from Bretville. The Panthers of the 3 Company, having made their turn, substituted the sides of the Canadian tanks. The sides of the panthers had a reservation of the entire 50-40 mm (top and bottom of the hull, respectively), the booking of the side of the tower was 45 mm. The firing distance was the same 900 meters. At this distance of the battle, the first shells fired by Canadians were able to find targets.
In this battle, the Canadian tank crew, commanded by Lieutenant Henry, especially distinguished himself. His gunner managed to knock out the 5 attacking the Panthers with five shots. Two more Fireflys were able to chalk up one of the seven Panthers that were left on the battlefield. In this case, the fire on the German tanks were all available "Shermans", so some "Panthers" received several hits at once. While the Fireflakes quite easily pierced their sides with armor-piercing projectiles, conventional Sherman tanks fired high-explosive fragmentation shells. They could not seriously harm the German tanks, but confused their crews, and also did not allow to monitor the surroundings, to find targets. That is why for German tankers it remains a mystery who exactly shot at them.
Canadian Sherman tanks on 9 on June 1944, were in the right place at the right time. And although the German troops carried out a counterattack suddenly, the Canadians were able to quickly navigate and do their job perfectly, without incurring losses in tanks on their part. At the same time, the German command was again convinced that haste in organizing and conducting tank attacks inevitably leads to the failure of the offensive. At the same time, this battle was the first victory of the Canadian tankers and their Shermans over the German Panthers.
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