Action by Aufklärungsgruppe Olboeter near Chênedollé from 3 to 8 August 1944

While the “HJ” Division was still in defensive action in the Vimont sector, the situation on the left wing of the invasion front had taken a dangerous turn for the worse. Simultaneously with the containment attack by the II Canadian Corps south of Caen, the Americans had started operation “COBRA” west of St. Lô on 25 July 1944. Massive bombing raids preceded the attack by several infantry and tank divisions along a narrow front. They destroyed the majority of the troops in the front lines and the Panzers in position at critical points. In conjunction with this attack, which proceeded in southerly and southwesterly directions during the next few days, the Americans had also started an attack on the western coast of the Cotentin peninsula on 28 July. In the evening of 30 July they had reached Avranches. Counterattacks by 2. and 116. Panzerdivisions, after forced marches from the Orne valley and the area south of Caen, into the left American flank south of St. Lô had only been able to slow down their advance but had not prevented the breakthrough at the coast.

After breaking off Operation “GOODWOOD” near Caen, Montgomery had pulled his tank divisions out of the area around Caen. He attacked with them east of St. Lô, on both sides of Caumont, on 30 July, in the “BLUECOAT” operation, toward the south and southeast. A battle group of the 11th Armoured Division had captured le Bény-Bocage (sixteen kilometers south of Caumont) on 1 August. It was threatening Vire in the rear of the troops who were sealing off the eastern flank of the American wedge which had broken through.

During this extremely critical situation, the Heeresgruppe brought in all available Panzer units from the area south of Caen. In this context, a fast group was taken out of the newly formed Wünsche Kampfgruppe. It was given the designation “Aufklärungsgruppe Olboeter” and consisted of 2. Panzer-kompanie under the command of Obersturmführer Gaede with 13 combat-ready Panthers, 9. Kompanie (armored personnel carriers) of Regiment 26, 1. Batterie of Artillerie-regiment 12 (six light self-propelled field howitzers—Wespe) and 2 armored reconnaissance squads (six armored cars, 80 Watt) of 1. Kompanie of Aufklärungsabteilung “LAH”. The Aufklärungsgruppe was attached to II. SS-Panzerkorps on 2 August at 22.25 hours and dispatched into the area east of Vire.

On 1 August, II. SS-Panzerkorps had ordered 10. SS-Panzerdivision to clear out the British penetration near Coulvain (five kilometers southwest of Villers-Bocage) through a counterattack. The 21. Panzerdivision and 9. SS-Panzerdivision were directed to close the gap between Panzergruppe West and 7. Armee and to establish contact at Hill 205 (presumably 207 on map 1 : 25,000) immediately west of le Bény-Bocage.

Here follows a description of the situation on the left wing of II. SS-Panzerkorps where Aufklärungsgruppe Olboeter was put into action. Parts of 9. SS-Panzerdivision “Hohenstaufen” had already arrived in the morning of 2 August in the area east of le Bény-Bocage, to secure and reconnoiter. During the night 1–2 August, the Schwere SS-Panzerabteilung 102 (Tigers) had also been pulled out of its ambush positions near Hill 112 and brought up together with the rest of the “Hohenstaufen”.

Tigerabteilung 102 of Sturmbannführer Weiß encountered the “A”-Squadron of the 23rd Hussars in the evening of 2 August. It knocked out all their Sherman tanks, except four. The Hussars and the 8th Battalion The Rifle Brigade (armored) changed over to defense on the ridge immediately north of le Bas Perrier, 1.5 kilometers north of Chênedollé. To the west, the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry (Sherman tanks) and the 3rd Battalion The Monmouthshire Regiment prepared for defense after having pulled back from the road Vire-Condé. These battalions, part of the 11th Armoured Division, had faced the “HJ” Division as early as 28 June south of Cheux. The 3rd Battalion The Monmouthshire Regiment was now commanded by Major J. J. How who had, previously, been chief of a company of this battalion.

In the morning of 3 August, the 11th Armoured Division had received orders not to advance any further but to await the arrival of the Guards Armoured Division which was tied down northeast of Arclais by 21. Panzerdivision, as well as that of the Americans who were approximately the same distance away to the northwest. The English had been ordered to by-pass Vire since it was located in the American attack sector.

On 3 August, the “Hohenstaufen” Division attempted to smash the furthest advanced British forces through concentric attacks from the east, south and southwest. Because of a lack of forces, it could only achieve a partial success. The Korps-Tigerabteilung and the Panzeraufklärungsabteilung attacked from Vire along the road to Villers-Bocage. After knocking out a number of tanks they captured, as ordered, the hill northwest of la Bistière. Parts swung off to the northwest and established contact with 3. Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) Division near la Graverie. At the same time, Panzerpionier-bataillon 9 attacked to the right of the Weiß Kampfgruppe in order to capture Burcy and later gain contact with the Weiß Kampfgruppe near la Bistière. The attack, led without Panzer support, initially made good progress but then stalled under the fire of several tanks. A British counterattack forced the Pioniers to pull back and switch over to defense along a line from south of Pavée-south of Burcy.

The Olboeter Aufklärungsgruppe and Heerespionier-bataillon 600 arrived in the combat area in the evening of 3 August. The Pioniers initially set up defenses around Chênedollé. The Panzergrenadiers of Sturmbannführer Olboeter probably took over the sector les Templeries-la Teinturerie. The Panther-kompanie took up ambush positions on a broad front directly south of the road Vire-Vassy, with its left wing near Viessoix. There was no contact with the Weiß Kampfgruppe. It can be assumed that the attached armored reconnaissance squads were sent into action to determine the situation and secure the gap.

The English reconnoitered against this securing line from the north during 3 August, using armored car squads. They reported la Teinturerie occupied by infantry and mortars, and that they had come under fire from a Panther in the vicinity of the railroad embankment.

Unterscharführer Karl Bassler, Panzer commander in 2. Kompanie, reported that a British reconnaissance vehicle had been knocked out on 3 August, but remained intact except for its windshield. Valuable maps with notes on the enemy positions were found inside the vehicle. The car was then used for some time by the Regimental staff.

In the late evening hours of 3 August, the 11th Armoured Division received infantry reinforcements from three battalions of the 3rd Infantry Division. The 2nd Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment was ordered to relieve the 8th Battalion The Rifle Brigade near le Bas Perrier.

The plan of “Hohenstaufen” Division for the following day was to close the still existing gap along a general line Hill 175 (presumably 173 on map 1 : 25,000) to approximately 600 meters east of la Ferronnière-Beaulieu-la Graverie and to destroy the English forces south thereof.

The attack along the road Chênedollê on the English positions immediately north of le Bas Perrier hit the enemy exactly at the moment when the Warwickshires relieved the 8th Battalion The Rifle Brigade. The attackers succeeded in breaking through to le Bas Perrier and to within 400 m of the English positions to its north. There, the attack came to a standstill under heavy defensive artillery and tank fire. The assault units, belonging to SS-Pionierbataillon 9 and Pionierbataillon 600, were drawn back to the ridge on both sides of Point 243, north of Chênedollé. The Olboeter Aufklärungsgruppe was apparently not involved in this fighting. The Weiß Kampfgruppe fought off several English attacks along the road Vire-Villers-Bocage. In the face of superior enemy forces, it had to withdraw to new positions directly north of Vire after darkness had fallen.

In order to clear up the critical situation in the Chênedollé area and west of it, 10. SS-Panzerdivision disengaged from the operational area Aunayla Bigne during the night 4/5 August and moved into the area around Vassy. The 2. Tigerkompanie was assigned to Pionierbataillon 600 in Chênedollé.

The 11th Armoured Division had set up all-round defensive positions: among others, the Warwickshires with a Hussars tank company near le Bas Perrier, the Monmouthshire Battalion—relieved during the course of the day by the 1st Battalion The Royal Norfolk Regiment—with a tank company of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry around Pavée, the 1st Battalion The Hereford-shire Regiment with a company of the Fife and Forfars around Forgues.

The Warwicks, together with a company and several tanks of the Hussars, tried to capture the hill north of Chênedollé. They were fought off and pulled back to le Bas Perrier. An attack by Aufklärungsabteilung 9 and the Pionierbataillon “Hohenstaufen” with the Panzergrenadierkompanie of Sturm-bannführer Olboeter, from the area north of Viessoix on Pavée, supported by several Panthers, artillery and mortars, was repulsed. The troops returned to their starting positions. The 9./26 lost four killed who could not be recovered. The English losses amounted to approximately 100 men, mostly to the heavy mortar fire.

In the afternoon of 6 August, 10. SS-Panzerdivision “Frundsberg”, together with two Kampfgruppen, started an attack on the English positions near le Bas Perrier and near Pavée. The violent, bloody fighting lasted until nightfall. The English suffered approximately 500 losses, the German losses are not known.

The Olboeter Aufklärungsgruppe was apparently not involved in these attacks.

The American spearheads reached the area north of Vire in the evening. The city was occupied before noon on 7 August. Renewed attacks by “Frundsberg” Division, planned for that day, did not take place. The Division was pulled out for action with 7. Armee and the German main line of defense was moved back to a line Chênedollé-Viessoix-Roullours. Violent English attacks on Chênedollé and the positions northeast of Viessoix were fought off, with the attacker suffering significant losses. Aufklärungsgruppe Olboeter knocked out 6 tanks. Unterscharführer Bassler reported on the role of his Panther, which was located on the left wing and guarded toward the west, on what appeared to be the first combat encounter with the Americans:

The enemy attacked from the direction of Vire. Panzergrenadiers of the “Frundsberg” had dug in to the west of us. It did not take long before enemy tanks appeared on the western horizon. We opened fire at 2,700 meters and knocked out three tanks. A fourth one was abandoned by its crew without obvious reason. After it had been quiet for some time we drove forward in a passing Kübelwagen and inspected our “handiwork”. Dead or wounded enemy soldiers were not found. The contents of the fighting vehicles had already been distributed by the Panzergrenadiers. We received a share of several tasty English (or American) cookies.

The bitterly fought-for town of Chênedollé was given up during the night of 7–8 August and the front line was straightened. The last parts of the “Frundsberg” and Olboeter Aufklärungsgruppe disengaged.

In the afternoon of 8 August, 5. Panzerarmee advised II. SS-Panzerkorps to be prepared to let go of Gruppe Olboeter and Pionierbataillon 600.

The departure was probably ordered toward evening. Despite the comradely welcome at the “Hohenstaufen”, the men of “HJ” Division were glad to return to their own “bunch”. Bitter battles awaited them there. Fortunately, they could not foresee that.