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Major John Kenneth Officer Commanding 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 28 to 31 July, 1944

He led the battalion during what was, in his own words:

‘Perhaps the most successful op. of all’

NOTES ON CONTENT AND TERMINOLOGY

1. As the author’s previous ‘Over the Battlefield’ studies of Operation EPSOM and Operation GOODWOOD, this is the story of a battle. Once again, rather than burden the story with overmuch technical detail, a quantity of background information is presented in chapter-end reference notes and in separate appendices, organized by topic, into which the reader may dip at will.

2. Wherever possible, direct quotations are presented verbatim: retaining original spelling, punctuation, grammar, and abbreviation. In the case of military terminology, the author hopes that the reader will be able to decipher (for example) such standard forms as ‘pl’ for platoon, ‘coy’ for company, or ‘ATk’ for antitank from the context in which they appear. Standardized German unit and rank abbreviations (e.g., ‘Pz.Gr.Rgt.’ for Panzergrenadierregiment; ‘Stubaf.’ for Sturmbannführer) are used only sparingly, and only after the full version has appeared in the text.

British units’ proper designations can be unwieldy: such as ‘2nd Fife and Forfarshire Yeomanry’, or ‘2nd Battalion (Reconstituted), The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders’, and even ‘The Ayrshire Yeomanry (Earl of Carrick’s Own), 151st Field Regiment, Royal Artillery’. Following their first appearance, such titles are routinely abbreviated, as they generally were in the field: hence ‘Fifes’, ‘Argylls’, and ‘Ayrshires’. Similarly, in two specific cases within 11th Armoured Division: 3rd Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment may be referred to as ‘3rd Royal Tanks’ or ‘3rd RTR’; and 8th Battalion, The Rifle Brigade as ‘8th RB’.

Units of measurement are generally reported in terms appropriate to the nationality. The Allies referred to guns by weight of shell (6-pounder, 25-pounder) and calibre in millimetres (75mm, ‘eighty-eight’); whereas the German nomenclature favoured centimetres (7.5cm, 8.8cm; note however that the point is used rather than the German comma for decimals). Both imperial and metric measures of distance are used, as appropriate. For example, if a British unit advanced on a front estimated as ‘two hundred yards’, it would be misleading to record the measure as 200m, yet otiose to give it as 182.88m.

Hills feature in this narrative, and their spot heights are given in metres as on 1944 maps, which sometimes do not correspond exactly to modern trigonometry. They are of course close to the altitudes marked on modern French maps, but with so many hills having similar spot heights, confusion can arise. Therefore, the first time each spot height is mentioned, its equivalent on modern maps is shown in brackets. A similar procedure is used for French road numbers, as nowadays these rarely retain their 1944 designations.

Other details of the maps used in this volume are discussed at length in Appendix I.

3. Where possible, translations into English have been made by the author from original sources. Such translations attempt to be faithful to the original sense rather than word-forword, so may differ from other published versions.

The spelling of French place names is often found to vary. British Army maps of the period based on French originals frequently confused individual letters (in particular ‘n’ and ‘u’ are often transposed). And even the French were not always consistent: period French maps in the author’s possession include variations around ‘le Bény-Bocage’ and ‘Le Bénis Bocage’. The place nowadays known as Montchauvet was referred to by the soldiers of 1944 as ‘Montcharivet’, ‘Montcharival’, and ‘Mont Charivel’; the British Army Geographical Section settled for ‘Montcharivel’. For consistency (apart from verbatim quotations - see above), place names are presented as they appear - including hyphenation - on modern maps of the French Institut Géographique National (IGN).

English-language history often anglicizes German terms. As a general rule, names of German units, ranks, weapons systems, etc. will herein be presented in German form. There are several reasons for this. Recent years have seen a ‘creeping’ of German terms (Panzer, Schwerpunkt, Panzerfaust, and even Auftragstaktik) into English-language texts. Adopted piecemeal, this can result in grammatical absurdities (e.g., ‘panzers’ or ‘panzerfausts’ in place of the correct plural forms Panzer and Panzerfäuste). After consulting German speakers, it was concluded that muddling German and English terms into a sloppy pidgin was a poor option, akin to a badly dubbed film. Faced with the alternatives of consistent English (‘Armoured Group West’) or German (‘Panzergruppe West’), the German form is preferred. Where appropriate for clarity, English translations will be offered: e.g., ‘Panzerarmeeoberkommando 5 (Fifth Tank Army Headquarters)’. The author hopes that the reader will feel flattered rather than inconvenienced by these attempts at precision.

INTRODUCTION

Few battle plans survive contact with the enemy. BLUECOAT is a case in point. Yet it was not only enemy action but other unforeseen events that led to changes as the operation unfolded. The story of BLUECOAT is characterized by opportunities seized upon by individuals at the ‘sharp end’, some of whose initiatives shaped the battle no less than the directives of generals in the rear.

BLUECOAT was a very large operation indeed. In his earlier work on the subject, this author chose to focus on the actions of the British VIII Corps. This occasioned some dismay to veterans and admirers of XXX Corps, who felt that its part had received insufficient recognition. In the author’s defence: the post-war British Army Staff College tours of the BLUECOAT battlefield were principally concerned with VIII Corps operations. Indeed, these focused even more narrowly on the actions of 15th (Scottish) Division and 6th Guards Tank Brigade during 30 and 31 July. Though now able to discourse at twice the length of the previous work, the author still feels that the British side of the BLUECOAT story is best told from an VIII Corps standpoint. This should in no way disparage the XXX Corps struggle for Mont Pinçon and the Noireau, in spite of early tribulations and subsequent sackings. Their actions, together with those of the Canadians and Poles still further east and the Americans in the west, all played their part in the victorious conclusion of the Normandy campaign. All have been well covered in the histories of the campaign. Less well represented in the histories have been the strategic gains and tactical advances achieved by VIII Corps in this crucial period.

When this author first wrote about BLUECOAT, he was conscious of following in the footsteps of an accomplished historian and soldier: Major J J (‘Joe’) How, whose 1981 study was the first to do justice to this operation. Yet the intervening twenty-two years permitted new findings to be revealed. And now, a further six years on, although some repetition of details from the author’s previous account of Operation BLUECOAT is inevitable, the ‘Over the Battleground’ format allows the narrative to be presented in much greater detail than previously. In particular, this study further extends the story into early August to include the struggles for mastery of the Perrier Ridge and the bitter contest for possession of the German bulwark around the village of Estry as the battle for Normandy reached its climactic conclusion.

Lastly, the author continues to be surprised by the quantity of widely accepted Normandy myth that simply does not withstand close scrutiny. Wherever this work conflicts with numerous other Normandy histories, the author respectfully points out that frequent repetition of a story is no guarantee of accuracy. An appealing anecdote or a genuine mistake of place or time recorded in the field by a harassed Intelligence Officer finds its way into in a regimental history, and unless cross-checked against other sources risks being repeated, gaining credibility in the repetition. As the late, great Colonel A H Burne pointed out, and others have since echoed: ‘Whether history repeats itself may be a matter of doubt, but there can be no doubt that the gibe is true that historians repeat one another.’

Ian Daglish Alderley Edge 2009

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