Early Actions on D+1
The North Nova Scotia Highlanders and Le Régiment de la Chaudière came under attack by half-tracked infantry at 0200 on 7 June, apparently by troops belonging to 21 Panzer Division, the Chauds exchanging an entire platoon for several prisoners of the 192nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion.2 The 9th Brigade was apparently not deterred from its task of moving on its OAK objectives.
Advance on Authie
The War Diary of the 27th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment) noted:
The reconnaissance troop, equipped with Stuart tanks, led the column, followed by "C" Company of the North Novas riding on Universal Carriers. Behind them came a platoon of Vickers machine guns from the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, a troop of tank-destroyers of the divisional anti-tank regiment, two assault sections of pioneers, and four of the battalion anti-tank gun platoon's 6-pounder anti-tank guns. Three companies of North Novas followed behind, riding on the tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment. The initial advance is summed up by the official history in three sentences, noting only that opposition was slight, stiffening as the forces approached Buron, which was occupied by 11:50, and that two 8.8cm guns were reportedly knocked out before that time.4
As "C" Company searched Buron, "B" Company headed for Authie, their tanks deploying midway between the two villages and engaging targets in the latter. Mortar fire from St. Contest caused trouble for the Canadians by this time; "C" Company passed two platoons in carriers through "B" Company but took Authie after a "sharp skirmish" and dug in at the south edge of the village, which came under intense shelling and mortar fire. The 9th Brigade headquarters was informed of the capture of Authie at 1300, and at 1310 informed 3rd Canadian Division HQ that enemy armour was 800 yards east of Authie. By this time the reconnaissance troop of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment was reported in Franqueville and "A" Company of the North Novas had passed to the west of Buron and were also approaching Authie, but had dismounted from their tanks and were advancing on foot without support and were taking heavy fire from the west.5
Artillery support was not available as the 14th Field Regiment, in support of the 9th Brigade, was in the process of changing location and the 19th Field Regiment, also available to the sector, was firing in support of the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment. Radio communications to naval gunfire were temporarily also lost, but after contact was re-established, support was able to be brought down with effect. In the meantime, the advance troops of the brigade were left with exposed flanks and no support. The commanding officer of the Highlanders, Lieutenant Colonel Petch, ordered "A" Company to dig-in south-east of Gruchy, and for "B" Company to withdraw from Authie and join them and create a "battalion fortress" north of Authie. Heavy fire, however, pinned "B" Company in Buron and two platoons of "C" Company were struck by a German counter-attack in Authie.
Hitler Youth Counter-Attack
The commander of the 25th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment, a component of the 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitlerjugend), made a personal reconnaissance from the chapel of the Abbey d'Ardenne, the medieval building serving as divisional headquarters, and upon seeing the tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment fanning out over the countryside (in fact, his own vehicle had been fired on not long before, likely by a Sherbrooke Fusilier), he issued deployment orders for the 2nd Battalion (equipped with PzKpfw IV vehicles) of the 12th SS Panzer Regiment and the troops of his own 25th Panzergrenadier Regiment.
After a second reconnaissance from the chapel, he pushed up his attack two hours, and ordered the three infantry companies of the 3rd Battalion to strike at Authie and Buron with the 5th and 6th Panzer Companies. with Authie secured, the 2nd Battalion was to advance from Bitot. The 3rd Battalion commenced its attack at 1400.
At 1410, "B" Squadron of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment made contact with the 6th Panzer Company east of Authie, and soon after, "A" Squadron to the west engaged the 5th Panzer Company. "A" Squadron lost two Shermans within minutes; Lieutenant Fitzpatrick moved his tank - the sole survivor of his troop - to a firing position south of Authie to find his breech mechanism had failed. When his tank was hit, two men were killed and a third wounded. Lieutenant Windsor's troop was also forced to withdraw, though his tank was also hit and his crew baled out, to be taken prisoner.
"B" Squadron, with eleven tanks, engaged the 6th Company at several hundred yards range and exchanged fire successfully, knocking out several German tanks and forcing the other to withdraw. Attempting to advance, they ran into anti-tank obstacles and were bogged down, though they were able to extricate themselves after a few anxious minutes of exposure to anti-tank and artillery fire. The five survivors withdrew to Gruchy.6
The infantry attack on Authie went in behind the tanks, in a "V" formation, two companies "up" and one in reserve. The Canadian official history states succinctly that platoons of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, with some troops of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa and some tanks, "fought hard (in and around Authie) but were overrun; only a few men got away."7
A history of the 12th SS is also succinct:
Nine tanks supported the 9th Company in their assault on Authie; facing them were two platoons of "C" Company of the North Novas under Captain Fraser, and Lieutenant Sutherland's platoon of "A" Company. They had only one tank left in support, a 17-pounder armed Sherman, and no anti-tank weapons of their own. They nonetheless decided they would make a stand; and positioned themselves along a hedge in an orchard and salvaged Browning machine guns from knocked out Sherman tanks.
The Germans attacked after a preparatory barrage; they advanced to within a few hundred yards, and a firefight ensued. During the running battle, the commander of No. 13 Platoon retrieved a Universal Carrier from inside the village belonging to the Camerons, upon which was mounted a Vickers machine gun. SS troops of the 9th Company had infiltrated by now into the orchard and were firing into the Canadian positions at close range; the carrier was deployed to the west end of the orchard where it duelled with the infiltrators. Their radio damaged, the infantry tried to get a message for reinforcements through to the Sherbrooke's HQ via the tank radio, for relay to the CO of the North Novas via Brigade Headquarters. The message was received, and pleas to hang on were sent back via the same route. Reassured, the troops kept fighting, but it was for nought, as no reinforcements were ever sent.
The Canadians held out for almost 60 minutes, against successive assaults, first mass assaults, then small groups. The 11th Company worked its way to the northern part of Authie to flank "A" Company. Lieutenant Veness, who had manned the MG carrier, was ordered to escape with anyone who could still make it while the wounded in the orchard stayed behind to provide cover. Between 20 and 30 men made it into Authie and the farmland beyond, while Captain Fraser and the wounded made their last stand in the orchard, finally succumbing in close quarters combat just after 1600.9
What happened next became a matter of great controversy, though the facts themselves are not disputed:
In all, 156 Canadian soldiers were murdered in cold blood in Normandy (about a score at Authie alone), in a spree beginning with those troops captured at Authie on June 7th, and ending ten days later. The perpetrators were all members of the 12th SS Panzer Division; the victims all members of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. The matter has been controversial in that few of the perpetrators were ever brought to justice for their crimes.
Buron itself was hotly contested, and eventually lost late in the afternoon, and then retaken once again by the Highlanders and surviving tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment when heavy artillery support was once again available. However, at dusk, advance units fell back to Les Buissons, and the other battalions of the 9th Brigade joined them there to create a "Brigade Fortress." They would remain there for a month, until Operation CHARNWOOD in July, when the brigade moved forward over the same ground once again to attack Buron four weeks later.
The losses had been heavy, with the North Novas suffering 242 casualties, 84 fatal, and 128 being captured. A footnote to the latter is that three prisoners, including Lieutenant Veness, escaped from captivity while in transit to Germany, made contact with the French Maquis, and eventually returned to England and rejoined the Army (making the comment quoted above by the German divisional historian about no one escaping to tell the story not only inaccurate but ironic). The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment lost 21 Sherman tanks, with 7 more damaged, and had 60 personnel casualties, including 26 killed. The Canadians estimated 31 destroyed enemy tanks, while Kurt Meyer estimated losses of tanks at six.
The Canadian official historian concluded that:
However, historians have come to reassess the abilities of the 12th SS in these opening days of the campaign.12 There were other battles fought around Authie over the course of the next three days, between the 3rd Canadian Division and the 12th SS Panzer Division. The Canadian Army's official historian went on to note that the "German counter-attack was not made in sufficient strength to have much effect upon the bridgehead battle as a whole. Meyer's force was too small to achieve a great deal, particularly in the reduced state which it must have been in after the fierce fighting around Authie and Buron. He was in fact fought to a standstill; but before this took place he had inflicted a severe local reverse on the 9th Brigade."13
The following Canadian units were awarded the Battle Honour "Authie" for participation in these actions:
2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade
9th Canadian Infantry Brigade