Source C.P. Stacey, The Victory Campaign: The Operations in North-West Europe, Volume III, Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War (The Queen’s Printer and Controller of Stationery, Ottawa, 1960).

Go to Canadians in Normandy picture file / Canadian 3rd Division: Order of Battle / "Victory Campaign": Normandy landings / Canadian official histories (includes bibliography) / "Alamein to Zem Zem" excerpt From the war memoir by poet Keith Douglas. 

Map of operations in Le Mesnil-Patry and the Mue Valley, 11 June 1944. (From The Victory Campaign)

Large color showing area between Tilly sur Seulles and Carpiquet (including Mesnil-Patry). (From Victory in the West)

The Failure at Le Mesnil-Patry

Planning begun on 10 June for an enterprise by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade south of Norrey-en-Bessin was based on the assumption that the main attack was to be made on 12 June. In the early morning of the 11th, however, information was received that it had been advanced and was to take place as soon as possible. At 8:00 a.m. the 6th Armoured Regiment was told that it was to go in at 1:00 p.m. that day. At about 10:30 a.m. Brigadier Wyman of the 2nd Armoured Brigade held his "orders group", after which the commanding officers of the units held their own. The attack was thus put in at very short notice and with less careful preparation than would have been desirable, particularly in respect of artillery support.

The reasons for advancing the time of the attack were not recorded; but it seems fairly clear that they must have been connected with an attack which the neighbouring formations of the 30th Corps were delivering and the decision was probably taken at a conference which General Dempsey held with his two Corps Commanders at 5:00 p.m. on 10 June. Headquarters 1st British Corps, under which the Canadian division was still operating, logged at noon on 11 June a message from the 30th Corps concerning an attack then being launched by the 69th British Infantry Brigade in the area about Bronay. The log noted, "3 Cdn Div told to keep 50 Div fully informed about progress of 2 Cdn Armd Bde which will help 69 Bde."

Under the plan adopted for the Canadian attack the 6th Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) and The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada were to attack through Norrey-en-Bessin with a view to seizing and holding the high ground south of Cheux This was to be effected by a right flanking movement through Le Mesnil-Patry, Cheux itself being by-passed. The remainder of the armoured brigade would be prepared to join the 6th Armoured Regiment on the objective.

The attack actually began shortly after 2:30 p.m. on 11 June. It was a complete and costly failure "B" Squadron of the Hussars led the advance, with the men of  “D” Company of the "Queen's Own riding on its tanks. This force had not gone far across the level grainfields between Norrey and Le Mesnil-Patry when very heavy mortar and machine-gun fire came down. The infantry were forced to dismount from the tanks, which pushed on in an attempt to deal with the opposition. Both the tanks and a party of infantry fought their way into Le Mesnil-Patry. The situation grew worse as enemy armour (which was at first believed to be British) and anti-tank guns came into action. Lt-Col. Colwell of the Hussars, who was commanding the advanced group, ordered his force to withdraw to the start-line. But "B" Squadron evidently did not receive the order and was virtually annihilated. All its officers and all save three N.C.Os. were listed as missing, and only two of its tanks returned. As for "D, Company of the  Queen's Own it was found to have suffered 96 casualties, more than half of whom were missing. The total casualties for this day were 80 for the 6th Armoured Regiment and 99 for the Queen's Own Rifles, the fatal casualties being 59 and 55 respectively.

During the first six hectic days of Operation "Overlord" Canadian battle casualties had totalled 196 officers and 2635 other ranks; 72 officers and 945 all ranks lost their lives. All these losses had fallen upon the 3rd Division and attached troops. The other Canadian formations remained for the moment in England in mingled eagerness and anxiety the opportunity to take their places in the battle line.

The costly affair at Le Mesnil-Patry was the last considerable Canada operation during the month of June. The nature of Allied strategy resulted in the major action thereafter being concentrated elsewhere. On the night of 16-17 June Le Mesnil-Patry was occupied without opposition, thanks to progress by British troops on the right. The most important development on the Canadian front during the latter part of the month was the relief of the 7th Brigade in the Putot-Bretteville-Norrey positions by the 8th. This was effected on the night  of 17-18 June, one of the shortest of the year * the two brigades "exchanged areas in the face of the enemy, and without incident".

 

*  On 17 June Lt.-Col. J.R.W.T. Bessonette, the 3rd Canadian Division’s senior R.C.A.S.C officer, was killed by a shell in headquarters area north-east of Camilly, where divisional H.Q. was then located. He had arrived in Normandy only the previous day.

 

 The 11th of June marked the end of a phase not only for the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division but for the Allied operations at large. The Allied armies were now firmly established ashore, and the separate bridgeheads of D Day were linked up into a continuous deep lodgement all along the front. The gap between the two American sectors had been bridged on 10 June. By the night of 11-12 June the first stage of Operation "Overlord" had thus been successfully completed. The Allies had 326,547 men, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of stores ashore on the Continent. The construction of their complicated artificial harbours, at Arromanches in the British sector and St. Laurent in the American sector, was well advanced, and at least two complete "Gooseberries" (craft shelters formed by sinking ships) were in operation. Moreover, Allied aircraft were now operating from airstrips in France. Two R.A.F. squadrons landed in France at noon 10 June; and that afternoon Nos. 441, 442, and 443 Squadrons R.C.A.F. were airborne for a sweep—"the first Allied squadrons to operate from French soil since the evacuation from Dunkirk".

The Germans' plan of defence had failed. They had not succeeded in mounting the great armoured counter-offensive which was to drive the invaders into the sea. Even a more limited attack, in which General Geyr von Schweppenburg (whose Panzer Group West had now taken over the Caen sector) planned to use parts of the 21st and 12th S.S. Panzer Divisions under the 1st S.S. Panzer Corps against the Canadian front, had to be cancelled on 10 June; and immediately afterwards a devastating attack by aircraft of the 2nd Tactical Air Force which wiped out almost his whole staff put an end to such projects for the present, and the sector was returned to the 1st S.S. Panzer Corps' control. Moreover, the Germans remained fully convinced that a second invasion, in the region of the Strait of Dover, was probable. ** They therefore continued to hold there the divisions that might have turned the scale in Normandy.

 

** The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces had believed that it had reliable information of such an assault planned for the morning of 10 June, and had issues orders accordingly.