The Battalion first heard that it was to have the honour of leading the Allied Armies into Caen on the afternoon of 7th July 1944. After three weeks in the line at Cambes, we had been pulled out for a rest at St Aubin d'Arquenay, but had only been there for a single day when we were ordered to move forward again to positions behind 185 Brigade at Bieville prior to passing through them into Caen.
The plan was as follows: 185 Brigade was to capture Lebisey Wood, and, having consolidated, to seize the high ground above Caen on Ring Contour 60. The 2nd Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles, supported by 1st Battalion The Kings Own Scottish Borderers, was to move up to the heights and, from there, thrust down into Caen.
The first half of this plan consisted of a deliberate attack, based upon information about the strength and dispositions of the enemy which had been accumulated since D Day. The second half, in which the Battalion was to be committed, depended entirely upon the progress and success of the first. Our task was to maintain the momentum of the first assault and to pursue the enemy to the far side of the river Orne.
185 Brigade launched their attack at 0400 hours 8th July. Shortly afterwards, our own Brigade moved forward into the positions from which 185 had gone forward. It was a clear night with a full moon, and as we moved forward, we could see the flashes and hear the rumble of the tremendous barrage which pounded the enemy for some hours before zero. By dawn, we were secure in Bieville, providing a firm base for the 185 attack.
By 1000 hours the objective Lebisey Wood was reported taken; but mopping up and consolidation took time and not until 1500 hours did the reserve battalion of 185 Brigade, the 2nd K. S. . I., begin the advance towards Ring Contour 60.
Meanwhile the Commanding Officer was making his reconnaissance and evolving a plan with the Commander of the supporting tank unit, the 1st Northants Yeomanry, assisted by Major W. D. Tighe-Wood and Captain A. C. Bird, commanding the two forward companies. At 1430 hours the Battalion moved forward and debouched from Lebisey Wood towards Ring Contour 60 at 1730 hours.
At this time no news of the progress of the K. S. L. I. had reached us, nor had we heard anything of enemy dispositions behind Lebisey Wood.
However it was obvious from the viewpoint of Lebisey that the Boche was shelling intensively the whole area between the wood and Ring Contour 60, by using as O.Ps the chimneys of the factories at Colombelles lying on the south side of the Orne to the N. F. of Caen. These chimneys constituted too small a target for the RAF or for our own gunners, yet they dominated the battle field, and made the passage of our troops a difficult one.
A and D Companies, however, moved forward according to plan. At first, while they were operating in close touch with the tanks, the enemy barrage was not troublesome; but later the range was closed and some damage was done.
A Company had just established itself on the objective when Company Headquarters received a direct hit which wounded Major W. D. Tighe-Wood and a number of his staff. Captain C. G. Alexander took over command.
Meanwhile liaison had been made with the K. S. L. I. and with supporting tanks providing admirable cover and protection against a counter attack, everyone dug in with the utmost rapidity. Little small arms fire had been met and prisoners were few, but the position was being continuously and accurately shelled.
A Company again suffered; this time its Stretcher Bearers were all wounded, and great work was done by Cpl Reid, Rfn A. Cranston and Rfn Devaney in bringing in and tending the wounded. B and C, the two reserve companies, who moved up to the position under heavy shellfire also suffered casualties.
By the time the whole Battalion was in position, it was getting late and the light was beginning to fail. We had about 80 casualties, mostly from shellfire, since such Germans as had been found on the objective were swiftly liquidated. Nevertheless, we were determined to make an effort to enter Caen that evening, and B Company under Major J. W. Hyde, with two troops of tanks, set off to probe the enemy positions in the Northern approaches to the town.
Some casualties on the start line were caused by an 88 mm gun, and opposition was encountered some 500 yards further on. The tanks were completely held up by the havoc and ruin wrought in bombing attacks by the RAF and our men themselves could only move forward with the utmost difficulty. Finally, mines were discovered on the track and its verges.
It was considered unwise to continue this operation by night, and so B Company, under orders from the Commanding Officer, returned to their original positions.