Sunday 18 October 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Panther Defeat at Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse

Operation Overlord began on June 6th, 1944. American, British, and Canadian forces landed on five beaches on the shores of Normandy, opening the Western Front in Europe. In order to successfully develop this offensive, the Allies had to capture the city of Caen. This was the key to south-eastern France.

The attempt to take Caen from the march failed. The Germans threw considerable forces into the defense of the city, stopping the Canadian and British advance. To make matters worse, the Germans were gathering additional forces for a counteroffensive against the landed Allies. On June 7th-9th, the Germans delivered a series of local counterattacks to strengthen their position before the offensive. The fiercest battles here were fought by the Canadians near Rots, Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse, and Norrey-en-Bessin.

A hurried strike

The 12th SS Tank Division was armed with Panther tanks, among others, and was a force to be reckoned with. The first three companies of Panthers (about 40 tanks) arrived on the front on June 8th and attacked immediately in an attempt to capture Rots. Canadian infantry did not resist for long and retreated to Bretteville where they could rely on prepared defenses.

When German forces neared Bretteville, they came under fire from AT guns, tanks, and grenade launchers. As a result, several tanks were knocked out and burned. Canadian Joe Lapointe entered a duel with a Panther, and knocked it out with three shots from his PIAT. This was one of the most successful attacks on a Panther with this type of weapon. German infantry was similarly unsuccessful, and retreated. The Panthers followed.

Failing to take Bretteville and Norrey at night, the Germans decided to repeat their attacks during the day. However, they were unable to create a truly powerful force, since the 12th SS was attacking in pieces. Not only did this reduce its offensive capabilities, but prevented the establishment of proper cooperation between tanks and infantry.

On June 9th, at noon, 1st and 3rd Panther companies (about 25 tanks) began an offensive at Norrey. Another company covered their attacks by shooting from standstill. German infantry did not support this attack, likely because they were pinned down by Allied artillery fire. Tanks had to manage with 20-30 soldiers.

Panthers rushed towards Norrey at maximum speed. Tanks from the first company made a short stop and fired upon the church steeple to knock out potential artillery observers. After that, the company moved forward once more. Before the Germans even reached the village, they came under fire from AT guns. A short battle ensued. Even though the Germans destroyed a handful of Canadian guns without any losses, the commander decided to not tempt fate and retreat. This was the only action taken by 1st company on June 9th.

Nightmare at Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse

3rd company has a darker fate in store for them. The company was commanded by Captain Ludeman, hurriedly appointed to replace the prior commander, who was wounded in battle. Little is known about this man, not even his first name.

12 tanks from the company advanced rapidly along the railroad. Ludeman ordered them to reduce speed and turn left towards Norrey. He assumed that this would turn the Panthers' front armour against Canadian AT guns. He thought wrong. In a few seconds, the Panthers were indeed fired upon, but from the right, not from the front. In only a few minutes, five tanks were destroyed and two more knocked out.

Everything happened so quickly that German tankers did not have time to find out who was shooting at them. Panthers caught fire, their crews tried to escape as quickly as possible. Everyone who was in that battle recalls it with horror.

A tank commanded by a man called Hermani (no rank or name was recorded) was hit in the right side of the turret. The shell flew under the loader's seat and ignited. Hermani was an experienced tanker and did not lock his hatch. Thanks to this, he was the first to exit his tank. The gunner had to move through the flame, and he suffered severe burns. On the edge of the hatch, the gunner tore off his intercom cable and jumped down, right on the radio operator. The radio operator screamed, thinking that a tank has crushed him.

Another Panther's commander peeked out of his turret to take a better look and was killed by a direct hit from a shell. Another tank suffered significant damage to its tracks and wheels, but rentained the ability to move and limped away. Some of the disabled Panthers had their turrets torn off by exploding ammunition.

The remainder of 3rd company retreated, not having seen their enemy. Many tankers were shocked by what they saw and experienced. Ludeman had a nervous breakdown and he was sent to a hospital, where he took several days to recover. One German officer that observed the slaughter of his Panthers recalled "I wanted to cry from the fury and sorrow."

Anti-tank Fireflies

Who destroyed those Panthers? These were Sherman tanks from a reserve unit, coming to reinforce the Canadian 1st Hussars Tank Regiment. Out of the nine tanks, several were Firefly modifications, equipped with 17-pounder 76.2 mm guns, capable of penetrating any German tank.

When the Germans went in to attack Norrey, the Shermans were located next to Bretteville. The Panthers from the 3rd company showed their sides perfectly to the Canadian tanks. The range was a mere 900 meters, so the first shells found their targets.

Lieutenant Henry's tank excelled in this battle. His gunner knocked out five Panthers with five hits. Another two Fireflies scored one kill each. All Shermans fired on the Panthers, so several were hit more than once. Regular Shermans fired HE, capable of confusing the enemy and buttoning them down, making it difficult to find targets. This is why the Germans were unable to discover their attacker.

Canadian Shermans were in the right place, in the right time. Even though the German attack was unexpected, the Canadians organized quickly and were performed admirably, with no losses on their side. The Germans once again were shown that hurried organization and rash action causes failure. This was the first victory of Canadian Shermans over German Panthers.

Original article available here.


  1. I've just been reading about these actions and they were too hurried, with no recce of the terrain and by and large without infantry support. Not a good way to conduct an attack.

    1. Then again, standard German doctrine *was* immediate counterattack with whatever was available. Apparently the idea was trying to keep the enemy from entrenching his gains which is legit enough, but obviously the price was an elevated risk of dismal failure as in this case.

      From what I've read the German doctrines in general tended to "trade lives for time", which was rational enough in the early war since they well knew they *had* to win fast or not at all. Tended to make for nasty attrition rates in frontline units though.
      Not so sensible later on when any prospects of swift victory had long since evaporated ofc, but at that point they were then so thinly stretched recourse to essentially desperate measures was routine anyway...