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HILL 112
10th - 11th July 1944
Unit awarded Battle Honour Subsequent designation
4th Bn Wiltshire Regiment Disbanded 1946
  Reformed 1947
  Cadreised 1967
  Reformed as H.Q. Coy 1st Bn Wessex Regiment (Rifle Volunteers) 1972
  Disbanded and reformed as 2nd (Volunteer) Bn R.G.B.W.  1995
  Now, Wiltshire Element Royal Rifle Volunteers
5th Bn Wiltshire Regiment Disbanded 1946

 

THE GROUND
Westwards from the city of Caen, the Normandy countryside consists of rolling chalk down land intersected by the deep and densely wooded valleys of the rivers Odon and Orne. HILL 112 is the highest part of the long gently undulating ridge running Southwestwards from Caen, which completely dominates these two valleys. Along its flat top runs the main road from Caen to Evrecy, lined by High hedgerows, here and there, the vast cornfields, in July heavy with ripening corn, are broken up with tree lined enclosures and small orchards which also fill the lower slopes leading to the river valleys. North of the feature, the villages of Baron and Fontaine Etoupefour are linked by a dusty sunken lane. Down the southern slopes towards the Orne, the village of Maltot nestles among woods and orchards.

 

'The Ground' Hill 112

 

GENERAL BACKGROUND

Among the Germans it was said ‘He who holds HILL 112, holds Normandy’ They had prepared elaborate field defences in great depth manned by the picked 10th Panzer Division, tough, seasoned and superlatively trained, who would fight to the last to hold the ridge. Their tactics were to lie low at first, in their concealed round holes amid the corn, letting their attackers (And particularly their tanks) pass through with the appearance of and easy victory, then to catch the rearward companies in belts of enfilading cross-fire, while the forward elements, losing impetus against the stiffening resistance from the deep defences ahead of them, found themselves cut off from all support. The defences were backed with artillery and mortars on a lavish scale, besides many Tiger and Panther tanks, S.P. Guns and ‘Moaning Minnies’ or Nebelwerfers.

The ridge already strewn with the hulks and corpses of an earlier armoured battle, was the objective of the first full scale attack carried out by the 43rd (Wessex) division. Operation ‘Jupiter’ had been preceded by the capture of Baron village by the 5th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment, commanded by Lt Col N.C.E. KENRICK, on 29th June. A Brilliant night raid on the farmstead of Les Dauns had also been made by ‘A’ Company of the 4th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment commanded by Lt Col E.L. LUCE, on the night of 7/8 July in which Major TEICHMAN gave his life in an attempt to evacuate a wounded soldier, after his superb leadership, which won him the Military Cross, had ensured the capture of a prisoner and the routing of a strong and alert S.S. outpost position.

At 05.00 hours on 10th July the two Battalions moved forward from Baron and the sunken lane having suffered severe causalities from Artillery fire while forming up. The 5th Battalion was on the right of 129 Brigade, and the 4th Battalion on the left, separated by the 4th Somerset Light Infantry who were making for the centre of the feature. On the left of the 4th Battalion was the 5th Dorset, then commanded by Lt Col B.A. COAD (Later first Colonel of the Regiment, Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment) The attack was supported by tanks of the Royal Scots Greys and a great weight of artillery.

The defenders followed the tactics described above. By 06.15 hours both Battalions had reached the main road on top of the feature, but the ease of this success soon proved illusionary. Savage in fighting, with no quarter asked or given, developed throughout the whole thousand yard depth of each Battalion frontage. The position was under a hail of fire from every weapon the Germans could bring to bear. A Veteran from World war one has compared the bombardment with that of Passchendaele. Strong armoured counter attacks all along the front were checked only with the greatest difficulty. Three fresh Battalions attacked Maltot village and Cornwall wood, but failed to hold their gains, and suffered heavy loss. The Wiltshire men clung to their hastily dug slits, suffering severely but giving no ground throughout the long sultry summer day, which saw many acts of gallantry.    The Germans were so heavily mauled that they had to throw in the 9th S.S. Panzer Division, to reinforce their defences.

 

Infantry advance against Hill 112

Infantry of the 43rd Wessex Division advance against Hill 112

43rd Wessex Div Sign

43rd Wessex Divisional Sign

 

4th

Battalion Wiltshire Regiment
219 Infantry Brigade
43rd Wessex Division

On the 9th July the Battalion was relieved by the 4th Somerset's and concentrated in the area west of Fontaines Etoupefour on preparation for a full scale attack----OPERATION JUPITER.

Whilst forming up short of the start line heavy and concentrated shelling caused a number of casualties, reducing 10 Platoon of ‘B’ Company, to the platoon Sgt A.G. JENKINS and four men. But promptly at 05.00 hours ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies crossed the start line with their supporting Churchill's and made their way in great depth and in extended order, through the waist high corn leading up the steady slope of the ridge.

Ahead of them fell the artillery barrage which had been firing all night.. This first appearance of an easy victory was most deceptive. The enemy troops were members of the S.S. and were both fanatical and skilful in their defence. The growing corn, red with poppies, concealed numerous carefully dug positions. The enemy's design was to cut the battalion off from their supporting tanks and then catch them enfiladed in belts of cross fire from his spandaus. No quarter was asked or given, no inert body could be assumed to be dead unless it bore the most easily visible wounds. Wounded S.S. men would throw grenades at stretcher bearers coming up to attend them. The assaulting troops made their way through the corn often unable to see the sections on their right and let, and ready at any time literally to stumble upon a pocket of resistance.

The attack proceeded and soon the Battalion was committed to in fighting throughout its depth. As the forward companies were clearing their final objectives, the reserve companies were fighting section and individual battles in the corn, flushing dugouts, verifying the deadness of corpses, and watching for the hidden sniper or by-passed spandau teams.. It was very much a ‘Soldiers Battle’ with all the platoons engaged

Although the Battle  seemed to have been raging for many hours, it was only a little after 09.00 hours, since 06.30 hours the Battalions main objectives had been firmly held under an increasingly heavy rain of shell and mortar fire. The Battalion dug in, cleared up snipers nests, searched for enemy dugouts and for our own causalities in the corn. This continued for the remainder of the day with casualties mounting. They were relieved at 23.30 hours by the 1st Bn Worcestershire Regiment, and returned to their original defensive position, where they took stock. 2 Officers and nineteen Other ranks killed, 6 Officers and 69 Other Ranks wounded. 

 

5th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment
219 Infantry Brigade
43rd Wessex Division

Prior to the attack of the 11th the Battalion were very busy planning and carrying out reconnaissance patrols to establish the enemy positions. An example being Lt G.M. BAXTER who together with Pte BUCKLE and CAXTON carried out no less than six ‘Reece’ patrols to determine the enemy locations between the 3rd and the 9th July.

On July 10th the operation commenced, ‘D’ Company left and ‘B’ Company right crossed the start line and attacked forward up the slopes of the hill. ‘D’ Company reached their objective, a small copse, and dug in on the reverse slope of the hill. ‘B’ Company on the right also reached their objective without serious difficulty and dug in.

But ‘C’ Company had the most difficult task. Their objective was the top of the hill where they were to destroy the enemy and then fall back into positions prepared for them meanwhile by ‘A’ Company on the reverse slope, just below the summit. Despite mortar, shell and small arms fire, ‘C’ Company gained the top and got astride the Caen – Esquay road, but there they were pinned down by intense fire from dug-in ‘Tiger’ tanks and machine guns in the area of Esquay. They had done magnificent work and gained their objective, but they were in a hopelessly exposed position with little chance of getting back into the comparative safety of the reverse slope. Moreover, their ammunition was running short. C.S.M. SMITH, however, came up in his Bren carrier with fresh supplies, breasting the top of the hill; he took in the situation and saw an enemy tank shooting its way along the road straight towards the prostrate company. He grasped the P.I.A.T. from the carrier and running forward through the tall corn, he fired from the hip and knocked out the tank. He was later awarded the Military Medal for this action.

On the right of ‘C’ Company on the top of the hill was the carrier platoon accompanied by the intelligence Sergeant SHORNEY. By hand-to-hand fighting they had destroyed all the enemy in a strongly defended and well constructed observation post from which artillery fire had been directed on to Baron.

The rescue of ‘C’ Company soon became the first concern, and a diversionary attack was prepared by Brigade H.Q. to drew attention away from those sorely tried men still pinned to the ground. The ruse was a success, and the Company was withdrawn back into Baron, leaving ‘A’ Company themselves to occupy the positions they had prepared for ‘C’ Company

The Action was over and the price paid was 26 Other ranks killed, and 21 missing, 5 Officers and 68 Other Ranks wounded.  

 

OTHER UNITS ENGAGED
Somerset Light Infantry Cornwall Light Infantry
Hampshire Regiment Middlesex Regiment
2nd Dragoons

 

For further reading and for a fuller in depth examination of the Wiltshire's involvement in this battle you are advised to read 'The Maroon Square' for the 4th Bn, The 5th Bn of the Wiltshire Regt in North West Europe by Capt McMATH and the 43rd Wessex Division at War 1944-45 by Maj Gen ESSAME
 
 
                             
 
                        
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                            Revised: 19 July 2006.