The village of Grimbosq is a small and rather unremarkable village sandwiched between a large forest and the steep banks of the River Orne. A rural farming community, its peace had previously only been disturbed by the train line running north from Thury-Harcourt. It was an unlikely place to become the focus of some of the fiercest fighting of the Normandy campaign.
In support of Operation TOTALIZE by Canadian forces to the east, 59th (Staffordshire) Infantry Division was ordered to attack towards Thury-Harcourt, on the River Orne. The main thrust of this offensive was to be southwards, on the west bank of the Orne. However, in what appears to have been an opportunistic move, Brigadier Fryer’s 176th Infantry Brigade was assigned the task of establishing a bridgehead over the River Orne.
In a possibly unexpected turn of events, at 1840 hours on the 6th of August a suitable fording place for infantry was found opposite Grimbosq. During the night the infantry battalions of 176th Brigade, with support from two squadrons of the 107th Regiment RAC, established a bridgehead 1000m deep on the steep east bank of the Orne to the south of Grimbosq. By 0800 hours on the 7th August the destroyed bridge at Le Bas, just to the west of Brieux, had been repaired and construction work was progressing on a more substantial Bailey Bridge. Two counter-attacks by the 271st Infantry Division failed to dislodge the British and during the day 176th Brigade enlarged its bridgehead to a width of about 3km and depth of 1.5km. Once the Bailey Bridge was completed, Churchill tanks from 34th Tank Brigade were able to reinforce the bridgehead.
Although the Grimbosq Bridgehead was established as an operational accident, it was soon apparent to both sides that it was of immense importance, as not only did it outflank the strong Thury-Harcourt position to the south, it also outflanked German positions to the north and protruded deep into the German left flank at a time when they were under extreme pressure from 1st Canadian Army’s Operation TOTALIZE to the north. It was clearly time for Sepp Dietrich, the commander of I. SS-Panzer-Korps, to deploy part of his armoured reserve, and so he ordered Kampfgruppe Wünsche from 12. SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjügend to restore the situation.
This game was our annual ‘Big Bovvy Bash’ game at Bovington Tank Museum in July 2013 and Paddy Green wrote the scenario. I was particularly keen to play, as I’d only just done a tour of the Grimbosq Bridgehead a couple of months earlier. The rules used (as always) were ‘Battlefront: WWII’ by Fire & Fury Games and the full scenario can be found on the Fire & Fury website here:
The models were mainly from Paddy Green’s and Richard de Ferrars’ collection, with a few minor contributions by me (mainly aircraft, engineering vehicles and the roadside calvary for the calvary crossroads).
Here’s the map for our Bovington game:
With a bridgehead already established east of the Orne River by infantry wading the river, 59th (Staffordshire) Division Engineers built two bridges just downstream of Le Bas Hydro-Electric Power Station. The first bridge to be finished was a repair of the (breached) existing bridge at Le Bas. This was capable of taking Class 9 traffic, such as trucks and light AFVs, but nothing heavier. The Churchill tanks of 107 RAC were therefore waded across, aided by winches and bulldozers provided by the Royal Engineers. After considerable effort, a Class 40 pontoon bridge was built, enabling Churchill tanks and other heavy AFVs to easily enter the bridgehead.
One of the most significant events of the actual battle was the sudden appearance of a wing of Allied medium bombers, which plastered the Forêt de Grimbosq, but apparently suffered from 12th SS anti-aircraft fire. These were probably RAF Mitchells, but we couldn’t get our hands on sufficient models. A handful of Boston squadrons were still serving in the same wings as Mitchells, so we opted for a trio of lovely Boston models from Dave Schmid at Armaments In Miniature.
The bombers sweep in from the south, plastering the western edge of the forest, just to the east of Brieux. However, the sheer volume of 20mm flak results in a few downed bombers and throws off the survivors’ aim somewhat. Nevertheless, they succeed in ripping the heart out of the 271st Infantry Division company that was due to assault La Bogtierre – an event that was to have significant consequences. However, one bomber manages to drop its bombs on the Norfolks, aiding the German assault on the southern flank.
271st Infantry charge into the gap created by the RAF!
With the 271st Infantry reeling from the bombing, Siebken is forced to divert his 10th SS Panzer-Grenadier Company to assault La Bogtierre. A Vickers MMG section causes significant casualties on the panzer-grenadiers, stalling their initial assault. However, the Vickers MMG is soon silenced by massed MG42 fire. The supporting Pzkpfw IVs are engaged by two M10s, resulting in a KO’d Pzkpfw IV, but the loss of both M10s. A 6pdr hidden in La Bogtierre Farm claims another Pzkpfw IV, but the gun is forced to make good its escape when assaulted by vengeful panzer-grenadiers.
In the centre, the Tiger company seems strangely reluctant to get stuck in to the fight. The Panthers on the German right flank show no such reluctance, however!
The British at Brieux and Le Bas are arrayed in considerable depth and strength. Siebken meanwhile, has only two panzer-grenadier companies with which to fight through these positions and one of his companies is already being chewed up at La Bogtierre! Only a few British tanks and anti-tank guns have revealed themselves, but there must be more…
Wünsche’s main attack quickly takes the Calvary crossroads and drives on against determined British resistance at Grimbosq and the Chateau. German artillery slams down onto the houses, but 59th Division is giving as good as it gets, with large artillery missions being fired against the attacking panzers and panzer-grenadiers.
At the north-east corner of the bridgehead, panzer-grenadiers and Panthers push into Grimbosq.
At the western end of Grimbosq, things seem relatively quiet.
West of La Bogtierre, a 2-inch mortar team lurks behind a hedgerow, ready to deal out instant death to any Germans that come their way. The crew sharpen their bayonets and take a few practice-swings with the mortar-tube.
In the south, the 271st are faced with a succession of defended stream-lines, held by the Norfolks. Undeterred, the Germans push forward, infiltrating a significant force, including pioneers, up the thickly-wooded river bank.
Another view of the bombers’ attack.
The Norfolks attempt to plug their defences with the Carrier Platoon, but the Germans come on with increasing fanaticism!
Pioneers push forward as the Norfolks’ first defence line is breached.
At the south-east corner of the bridgehead, an isolated company of Norfolks fights a desperate rearguard action against the 271st.
With their second assault on La Bogtierre also having stalled, Siebken’s 10th Company suffers the ignominy of seeing a platoon from 271st Infantry seizing La Bogtierre with ease!
Siebken also now suffers the further humiliation of losing his prized flamethrower halftrack…
With Siebken’s 10th Company starting to suffer serious losses, the plan unravels even further as 11th Company is forced to dismount to complete the assault on La Bogtierre. German mortars crash into Brieux in an attempt to suppress British defenders there and keep them from intervening.
Panzer-grenadiers and Panthers are now pushing deep into Grimbosq and the Chateau is now largely overrun. Caught up in the moment, Wünsche does something rather rash…
Part of Wünsche’s headquarters element pauses at the Calvary crossroads.
Another view of the bitter, close-quarters fighting in Grimbosq.
Max Wünsche was last seen pushing forward for a better view of his objective…
With the commitment of his 11th Company, Siebken finally overwhelms the defenders of La Bogtierre. His battalion mortars lay smoke as 11th Company pushes on to assault the southern flank of Brieux.
Siebken’s exhausted 10th Company, aided by close support from armour, finally push the Norfolks out of La Bogtierre’s orchards. Some Churchills attempt to intervene on the southern edge of the farm, but are quickly knocked out by Pzkpfw IVs after a brief duel.
A single section of flamethrower-armed pioneers manage to establish a foothold in the south-east corner of Brieux. However, the rest of the panzer-grenadiers are thrown back in disorder. If Siebken had done his reconnaissance properly, he would have noticed that 2-inch Mortar (see 12) and would never have attempted anything so foolish against such battle-hardened hand-to-hand specialists!
The pioneers, disordered by fire from a previously-unobserved Churchill parked outside the front door (!), are assaulted by Staffordshire infantry, but succeed against the odds in beating off all British counter-attacks!
The defenders of Grimbosq are now almost completely overrun. The fighting has now reached the church and the cemetery at the western end of the village and the Staffordshire men prepare to make their last-stand. However, the Germans are rapidly running out of panzer-grenadiers!
With panzer-grenadier strength reaching critical levels, the Panthers are forced to mount even bolder attacks – pushing deep into the narrow streets with minimal support.
At the southern end of the battle, the 271st suffer a crisis of confidence at a critical moment, giving the Norfolks vital respite and a chance to plug the gaps in their lines.
The British view of the fighting in Brieux (described above).
The survivors of the Norfolks rally and form a new defensive position south of the Le Bas bridges.
Having secured their initial objectives, the 271st consolidate before pushing on to Le Bas.
The north-east corner of the British bridgehead has now been totally eliminated by the 271st Infantry.
The RAF mount photo-recce runs over the battlefield for future Ian Daglish books.
A Boston passes over Brieux just as the Tigers finally start to roll forward… and run into a screen of 17pdrs…
As it passes over Grimbosq, the German high-water mark can clearly be seen – the last panzer-grenadiers are battling the British for possession of the church, while both British and German tanks burn near the river.
A Boston in close-up.
Having remained largely idle for much of the day, the Tigers finally move forward, but suffer catastrophic losses to British anti-tank guns.
Having beaten off the British counter-attack, the 11th SS Panzer-Grenadier Company consolidates and expands its foothold in Brieux and prepares to attack that Churchill…
With British positions in Brieux finally identified, Siebken’s armour opens up on the hamlet.
The remnants of the 10th SS Panzer-Grenadier Company push forward from La Bogtierre as the Pzkpfw IVs engage in a duel with a Churchill.
The panzer-grenadiers finally take Grimbosq Church as the British survivors grimly hold their ‘Alamo’ position in the cemetery.
With serious casualties and lacking infantry support, there is little more the Panthers can do to push forward against the bridges. Nevertheless, a foolhardy Flakpanzer decides to have a go…
The other Flakpanzer wisely stays back at the Calvary.
As the Germans attempted to encircle Grimbosq with armour, a half-squadron of concealed British Churchills attempted to mount a counter-attack. The British tanks were quickly destroyed, but the Germans were halted by their sacrifice.
As the Staffords dig in among the graves and mausolea of Grimbosq cemetery, the German armoured thrust is annihilated on the banks of the Orne.
59th (Staffordshire) Division’s Commander Royal Engineers (CRE) breathes a huge sigh of relief and gets on with bridge-building…
West of Brieux, British reserve companies wait for the final German assault on the bridges.
As night falls, Siebken’s battlegroup consolidates its positions and waits for orders. Will they be renewing the attack at dawn? Or will they be ordered to quietly slip away during the night…?
Well, we would never find out, as our Bovington weekend had come to an end! However, what was clear to all was that the Germans had shot their bolt. The 12th SS had almost run out of infantry and the Panther and Tiger companies had suffered heavy losses during their charge past Grimbosq, not least of which was the loss of their CO!
The raw 271st Infantry Division had done remarkably well against the Norfolks, though had run out of steam and were faced with fresh British infantry companies dug in around the bridges. The result would probably have been the same as the historical one – some continued skirmishing during the following morning, followed by a general withdrawal to Falaise by the 12th SS.
Thanks to all who played and especially to Richard and Paddy for putting on the game. Richard’s take on the scenario can be found here:
[Edited to add]
Here’s a link to my tour of the Grimbosq Battlefiend that I took in 2012: