History of War

DESERT RATS IN NORMANDY

General Bernard Law Montgomery made an emotional farewell to the officers and men of his beloved 8th Army in late 1943 at Vasto Opera House, Italy. His place in the history books was firmly secured thanks to his victories in North Africa and Sicily, now he was going on to bigger and better things. He was to command the 21st Army Group tasked with liberating Nazi occupied Europe. Monty’s chief of staff, Major General Francis de Guingand who was to accompany him recalled, “My chief was very quiet and I could see that this was going to be the most difficult operation he had yet attempted. We arrived inside [the opera house] and he said ‘Freddie, show me where to go’. I led him to the stairs leading up to the stage. He mounted at once, and to a hushed audience commenced his address to the officers of the army which he loved so well.”

However, Monty took with him Major-General “Bobby” Erskine’s veteran 7th Armoured Division, the famed Desert Rats. He also took the 50th (Northumbrian) and 51st (Highland) Divisions; along with 7th Armoured they had formed the backbone of the 8th Army. In the days following D-Day on 6 June 1944 Montgomery was like a prize-fighter before Caen. First he launched a series of right jabs to the west of the city. These were followed by a head blow with a direct assault and then a very heavy left hook. For the latter, 7th Armoured was ordered to deliver the coup de grâce. Such was its reputation that some thought it was unstoppable.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel always knew that the battle for Normandy hung on the defence of the city of Caen – more specifically the strategic high ground just to the south and southeast formed by the Bourgébous Ridge. Beyond this was good tank country that would

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