On the evenings of June 8th my thoughts drift to Normandy in 1944 where D Company Regina Rifles were holding a walled farm, la ferme de Cardonville, 10km west of Caen. They were there to defend the DDay Beaches, and that night as expected the 12th SS came cbc.ca/amp/1.778774 ImageImageImageImage
Captain Gordon Brown had just been promoted D Company commander earlier in the day as most of the company’s officers had been injured or killed either on D-Day or in the drive inland to the Oak Line - The Regina Rifles final objective & the planned Canadian defensive line... ImageImageImageImage
Now Gordon was the Regiment’s Transport Officer & didn’t land in the 1st or 2nd wave on June 6, he came in on one of the larger Tank Landing Craft (LTC) later in the AM supervising delivery & dispersement of 130 vehicles to the Reginas, Bren Gun Carriers, Jeeps, supply trucks... ImageImage
And because of his transport duties and role, Gordon wasn’t around for the year the Regina Rifles did their rifle company assault training. Being promoted a company commander he was apprehensive, uncertain as he’d never seen combat & as he’d said he “was green as grass”...
The Regina Rifles Regiment Commanding Officer, Lt-Col Foster Matheson, warned Grodon they were expecting a tank attack that night & said Gordon & D Company’s job was to just ignore the tanks - your job is to stop any infantry that comes with them... Image
Gordon wondered how one just ‘ignores’ an enemy tank. He left Bretteville-l'Orgueilleuse where A & B Companies of the Regina’s were with the Company HQ and headed to a walled farm / linen factory just southwest of town Le Ferme de Cardonville. C Company was further south @ Norrey
Getting to the farm required crawling on hands and knees due to the enemy snipers infiltrating the area. Gordon and D Company found a unit of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles already there, they were briefed and set about fortifying the position & a Phone line was strung to Brettville. Image
There wasn’t much time. Slit trenches were dug, sandbags placed in farm house windows and holes knocked out along the walls to observe approaching enemy and fire rifles, machine guns. There were only three platoons of D Company and it seemed not enough men for the job. Image
Grodon met with his ‘new to him’ second-in-command, Lt Dick Roberts, they decided to leave a platoon outside the farm walls along with some of the vehicles and the anti-tank guns to not “keep all their eggs in one basket” & provide tactical options. Image
Gordon would also meet D Company’s Company Sergeant Major (CSM) the wiry, wise-cracking, devil-may-care Jimmy ‘Jake’ Jacobs from Manitoba. Whose knowledge of weapons and battle drill was second to none and was deadly serious one moment and joking the next... Image
The SS began their assault to drive the CNDs back into the sea a mile west of the Regina’s position at village called Putot where the Royal Winnipeg Rifles held the line. The Winnipegers were driven out but they reorganized & reinforced by the Canadian Scottish went back in...
Gordon and D Company observed the fighting to the west of their position over the afternoon and evening of June 8 and knew if the Canadian Scottish and RWR failed they’d be flanked by the enemy and be in a bad position. The prepped for a siege they knew would come. Night fell... Image
Near midnight several tanks drove-in between Cardonville & the village of Norrey, just across the Caen-Bayeux railway line to D Company’s south. Norrey was where C Company fortified under the leadership of Captain Stu Tubb. Image
Now holding Norrey wasn’t in the Canadians original battle plan.. we were to hold the line at the railway and fortify the villages north of it but it was Stu’s genius move, he read the lay of the land & said I’m taking my company here where we can best disrupt the Germans: Smart.
Now at this moment Gordon was perplexed, the SS tanks were breaking into the Regina’s positions from the wrong direction, doctrine would have them coming over open ground from Putot, not barreling down the railway track straight into an urban setting, & without infantry support!
The heavy tanks passed close by the farm, Panthers! Oblivious to D Company presence they turned North and headed towards Bretteville where The Regina’s A, B Coys and HQ were. There seems to be no infantry with the Panthers. Flares lit up the night. The Battle of Bretteville began ImageImage
While gun fire & flame crackled in the June night Grodon left the farm and headed into the orchard where D Company’s anti-tank guns, a platoon, as where he’d find their FOO their Artillery Forward Observation Officer from 13th Field Regiment to call in artillery fire when needed Image
Gordon found the FOO deep asleep in his vehicle despite now a full battle raging in nearby, close Bretteville. (You have to realize no one really has slept all that much in 72-to-96 hours since they all left Southampton) many of the tanks were in Bretteville doing their best... Image
To shoot up the place while a few of the Panthers were scattered around the orchard, idling, waiting and completely oblivious to D Coy presence. Gordon could see the situation in Bretteville was desperate with Coy HQ endanger of being overrun... something must be done & quick...
Gordon crept in the dark to his anti-tank guns. If they could quietly reposition the guns they could take out some of the tanks attacking Bretteville from behind. The gunners argued back they’d be endanger of taking fire. Gordon won the argument & the gunners agreed to the plan.
Gordon sunk back into Cardonville farm & consulted with Dick Roberts & his platoon leaders. No one had seen ANY infantry with the tanks, which was against doctrine in any army at the time, Gordon tried to raise HQ on the phone but there was only static, understandable really... Image
Gordon was able to get a hold of Stu Tubb of C Company in Norrey. “Oh we’re fine...” what are we going to do about those tanks? “Well, there’s not much we CAN do now is there... Battalion HQ is busy for a change. We’re waiting for the infantry attack that can come at any time.” Image
Gordon was feeling the lack of experience. He knew Stu, a scholarly man from North Battleford, well as they became close during their years in England. He decided to go back out in to the orchard & check on the anti-tank guns and see where they were at
Gordon was reassured that both his 2 I/C and the CSM were calm, competent and seemed comfortable as one could be in the dire situation.
Our in the darkness, Gordon crawled on his knees to find the gunners. The sounds of battle had ceased. Finding one of the gunnery sergeants he asked, whispering, how things were going and if they were able to move the guns? The sergeant replied they couldn’t because of the tanks Image
What tanks?! Gordon said - the gunners replied: we’ll, there are six of them, surrounding the orchard at each corner and They’ve been there for quite a few minutes. They seem to be waiting for something, and don’t know we’re here. I’ve told our men not to fire on the tanks...
Gordon said “Good work, keep passing the word to everyone if possible not to fire. we’ll organize a coordinated surprise attack with the other platoons. A few men jumping on top of each tank with sticky grenades.” Gordon crawled back to Cardonville to organize the rest of D Coy. Image
Gordon wished the Sergeant good luck & he’d replied back he do his best. Just a Gordon had gotten back to the farm to start organizing the men the distinct sound of a Sten gun firing was heard. “There goes the old ball game” Gordon cursed - All hell broke loose in the Orchard. Image
Gordon briefed quickly the men in the Farm, obliviously the tanks must be waiting for their infantry support to arrive: Panzer Grenadiers. The men should be alert now that the tanks knew we where in the vicinity. However, events were spiraling out of control...
The Panther tanks started firing wildly, tracer bullets darting everywhere. Cardonville Farm’s barn roof caught fire, along with the hay, lighting up the whole area. Inside was D Coy’s main ammo supply. Men ran into the inferno to pull out as much as they could. Chaos reigned... ImageImage
While those in the farm either took cover or carried ammo to safety, in the orchard the Panzers set the now visible D Coy vehicles and anti-tank guns ablaze, running over slit trenches, crushing equipment & men... and there was nothing those inside the Farm could do about it.
After mopping up the Canadians outside the farm the six Panzers turned their attention to the walled farm. The heat and light was intense from the barn fire. All that was between the Panzers and rest of D Coy was the high walls and a great wooden gate. Shells started to land in.
D Coy strung a chain of grenades and anti-tank mines across the gateway. A tank lumbered up and knocked on the gate while the CNDs fired the rifles and machine guns at it, bullets bouncing wildly off. The Panzer Cmdr thought better of it and backed-off... Image
So it was stalemate, the Panzers could get in and Canadians could get out. The night dragged on with the Canadians taking potshots at the tanks and tanks occasionally firing back. Causalities in the farm started to mount. With dawns light & faint sound of aircraft the tanks left
Men cheered but D Coy leadership reminded everyone they must, even more, be on alert for an infantry attack. Their fortress had so far held but everyone was realizing it would be a fight to the finish. There been no contact with the Reginas in Beetteville & the fate of HQ unknown Image
By now, who was left in D Coy had a machine gun each with ammo. The dawn lull in fighting was used to improve D Coy’s firing positions. Everyone who was in the orchard appeared dead including the FOO. With him and phone line to HQ dead their would be no artillery support coming.
Spirits lighten with the dawn. Dick Roberts, Jim Jacobs & many of the men were reportedly cheerful despite the night they just endured. The Company was looking shaggy as no one had a shave or much rest since they landed on D-Day. Gordon tried the radio & phone and still no luck Image
There was plenty of wounded, some needing immediate surgery, some dying & some already dead. Medical Cpl Joe Seely was doing what he could, but D Coy couldn’t take the risk of taking wounded up the road, especially if Bretteville was in enemy hands.
Just as Gordon left Seely, D Coy’s machine guns opened up. “Here they come a soldier” yelled out. Panzer Greandier, the infantry that should be with their tanks had finally arrived. Every automatic weapon along the wall came into play. Jacobs ran from the little lean-to to look
Jacobs returned, ducking through the door he reported hundreds of SS soldiers were approaching in waves upon waves from the south, coming over the rail way embankment. Gordon tried to radio HQ with no luck, Dick Roberts went upstairs to take a look & reported “We’re in trouble.” Image
Gordon went to the wall to look himself. The attack didn’t make any sense. Infantry were advancing over open field with no tank or artillery support. D-Coy’s fire created carnage in the SS ranks but they just kept coming. He wondered if the jerries knew something that they didn’t
Dick Roberts reported that from the upstairs they could see SS crawling in the wheat fields attempting to surround the farm: “We’re in serious trouble... Come upstairs when you can and I hope we get artillery soon.”
Gordon contemplated we best he should be? On the wall firing with most of the men? Upstairs with Dixk & few men firing from above? Or where he was now in D Coy little command post by the phone and radio? Then the phone rang: “finally!” Image
Gordon answered thinking it was Regina HQ but then he heard only heavy breathing & then a thick German accent “Allo Englishman.. are you lonely?” The Germans had tapes into the phone line running through the orchard to Bretteville. Grodon saw red & was determined to fight it out Image
Gordon thought a machine gun upstairs in the farm house would be good idea and found a sergeant from the Ottawa Camerons who was apart of their band of defenders & convinced him to take his gun and crew upstairs, despite their professional reluctance that it would be that useful Image
While the machine gun crew were setting up in a 2nd story window a tracer bullet narrowly missed Gordon and hit one of the Camerons in the chest setting off his grenades and killing him. Gordon & one of the crew are tossed about by the explosion & MG sergeant injured... Image
Gordon orders the heavy machine gun back down stairs. The crew is shaken, it’s a costly lesson that could have been far worse. Gordon checks on some to the other men in the upstairs firing way... their having a field day shooting SS from on high. It was a sickening sight.
Gordon congratulated one of the riflemen sniping away. weaponless he heads back downstairs. He ask Jimmy Jacobs where where can find a weapon? Well there are plenty of German rifles and schmeissers now at the back of the farm house, take your pick. Image
Then German artillery started fall all over the fortified farm, hitting the stone roof of the farm house and the stone walls. Men took cover. As the barrage came in. Jacobs & Gordon found themselves both beside each other on the floor of the lean-to command post arms over heads.
The barrage eventually lifted & Grodon went back upstairs to see Roberts and asses the situation. Holes had been blown in the roof but Dick and his men survived. With big holes in the farm house roof they could see very clearly now the situation and it did not look good... Image
200 yards south of Cardonville farm, on the other side of the railway tracks was another farm, smaller but obviously being used now as a base for the SS’s attack and it looked like they were massing for another one after the barrage. If they could only get artillery fire...
“Here they come, get the bastards, Fire, fore, fire.” The order went out. Grey lines dashed across the fields. Dick was hidden up in the farm house attic, observing and sniping. CSM Jacobs dashed into yard to direct the defence of the wall with, no helmet on, shooting orders out. Image
The CSM was aware the SS would run up close the walls & toss grenades into the yard, with all the noise and focus on fire men would not see the grenades tossed towards them. “When I shout UP you get back to firing - When I shout DOWN you drop in your trench: OK UP... DOWN... UP! Image
After three rounds of ‘downs, explosions and ups’ the grenades stopped. Gordon observed it all from the doorway. Jacobs, helmetless, hands in pockets, in the middle of the yard directed it all oblivious to the danger. The grenades subsided but the situation was still grim...
“You guys should be more careful” Jacobs remarked to the men along the wall before returning back to Gordon in the command post. There were now some large holes in the current wall now. Suddenly a solider yelled there was a Canadian outside the wall with a machine gun firing away
“Hey, there’s one of our guys outside the east wall with an MG giving the Jerries hell.” Gordon saw the Cameron MG gunner avenging the loss of his friend by firing towards a clump of trees, bodies were falling. They were snipers, climbing up & trying to get a view of the yard. Image
The quick thinking and bravery of the Cameron saved the yard from snipers but he was exposed on the other side of the wall. Platoon Cmdr Lt Putnam went to support Sergeant Taylor, Lt opened a small gate & was shot through the eye. Taylor, with his gun jammed, picked up Putnam’s..
And returned to yard with not a scratch on him. Medic Seeley did what he could for Putnam, but he was working frantically, becoming overwhelmed by the number of wounded. Gordon tried the radio again, which hadn’t work properly since the evening before...
Suddenly the radio finally came alive, the astonished signaler shouted: “Good God Sir, its Battalion Headquarters!” Gordon grabbed the radio headset and asked for “Big Sunray” Lt Col Matherson and asked for artillery & tank support “We must have help without delay.” Image
Matherson put the CO 13th Artillery Regiment on the line. Col Clifford came on: “Cpt. Brown what’s happened to your FOO?” Sorry Sir, I’m afraid he’s been killed. We’ve hadn’t been able to get into the Orchard. But I think everyone there is dead. Can we get fire support right now?
Clifford: “Sure but first tell me your situation.” Gordon: “There’s a large number of enemy in the farm building across the rail tracks from us.” & Gordon read him the map coordinates “We need a good strong stonk on the farm and then a barrage backed from there to the rail line.
... in front of our position. Can you see on the map what I’m talking about? We can’t last much longer, Sir.” Clifford replied/ “Big Sunray wants to know how long you think you could last without help, Cpt?.” Gord ask Dick to come & asked how long? “about 20 min. Sir, that’s it.”
“No okay young fella. Now take it easy. Give me those coordinates again... Brown, that’s to close to your position. You sure you want it that way? Some rounds might hit your forward position.” Gordon responded: “We’ll have to take that chance, Sir.”
Clifford: “O.K. Tell your boys to take cover, they’ve only got a few minutes before the first shells come over their heads.” Gordon: “Thanks Sir, Go to it.”
Gordon asked Roberts and Jacobs to warn all the troops. Within two minutes the first 105mm shells came in, curtesy of the 13th Field Artillery and Col. Clifford. He had instructed his gunners well and not one shell would land on D Company and Cardonville Farm. ImageImageImageImage
However dozens of shells landed within yards of the wall. The roar was deafening to the men as hundreds more shells fell right on target. Much has been said & written of intra-branch rivalries but no Regina Infantryman who was at Cardonville would ever speak ill of a gunner again
The concussion were earthshaking, only 50 to 100 yards away. The barrage lasted 10 minutes. When it ended the silence was broken by the nervous laughter of soldiers & the exclamations of satisfaction “wasn’t that great? Boy, I’ll never cuss the artillery again.”
A number of men went to the wall for a look. The ground looked as it was ploughed over all the way to the enemy’s farm. Smoke still rising from the shell holes. Any remaining SS Panzer Grenadiers slipped away through the high grass, south back to their start lines.
They had no way of knowing at the time but the battle of Cardonville Farm of the evening of June 8 and the night and morning of June 9 was over. Gordon braced for a more coordinated attack but Germans learned a costly lesson that the Canadians were well entrenched and supported.
D Coy took stock of their losses, & assured now that Bretteville was still in Canadian hands they stated to ferry their wounded to Dr. Syd Huckvale & the Regina’s field hospital. Gordon made his report to Matherson & learned what the rest of the Regina’s were up to June 8-9. Image
Matherson told about the wild night the Regina’s had in Bretteville. Grodon was shocked and impressed to hear how two 40-ton Panther tanks were knocked out on Bretteville’s main drag, right in front of Company HQ, by riflemen with anti-tank weapons.

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