Operation Perch - Analysis - Overall


The failure of the operation led Dempsey to write shortly afterwards that there was "no chance now of a snap operation with airborne troops either to seize Caen or to deepen the bridgehead on XXX Corps front. It is clear now that Caen can be taken only by set-piece assault and we do not have the men or ammunition for that at this time". After the war he remarked "this attack by 7th Armoured Division should have succeeded. My feeling that Bucknall and Erskine would have to go started with that failure ... the whole handling of that battle was a disgrace. Their decision to withdraw was done by the corps commander and Erskine." Although D'Este calls Dempsey's comments "excessively harsh", historians generally support them, suggesting that a great opportunity to swiftly capture Caen was squandered by Bucknall. Fully supporting Dempsey, John Buckley claims that Bucknall was unprepared to support the attack once problems developed and that Erskine was not suited to the task at hand. Major Ellis is somewhat less critical, calling the immediate result of the fighting "disappointing" but stating that with Panzerlehr's stubborn resistance and the unexpected arrival of the 2nd Panzer Division, the 7th Armoured Division "could hardly have achieved full success". However this view is refuted by Michael Reynolds, who notes "2nd Panzer's tanks were nowhere near Villers-Bocage at this time".

Hubert Meyer claims the main reason for the failure of Perch was the inability of the 50th Division and its supporting armour to make head way against the Panzer-Lehr-Division, the collapse of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Divisions attack and the speedy counterattack launched by the lead elements of the 2nd Panzer Division. A further reason given for the operation's failure is that insufficient infantry was allotted to the offensive. Michael Reynolds notes that two infantry battalions and most of the 7th Armoured Division's 1st Rifle Brigade were uncommitted throughout 13 June. He further identifies three unemployed infantry brigades that could have been committed to the right hook with 7th Armoured when it went into action; he blames Bucknall for failing to concentrate enough force at the right place and the right time. This analysis is supported by D'Este, although Bucknall defended his decision claiming "49 ... no recent battle experience and it was important to launch them nicely into their first fighting in a properly coordinated battle, and not bundle them helter-skelter into hot armoured scrapping like that around V-B and Amaye." According to John Buckley, the most crucial factor in the operation's failure was a corresponding failure at the command level. Historian Terry Copp notes that Miles Dempsey continued to underestimate the German strength and commitment to defending the ground they held while Mungo Melvin states that Dempsey and the Second Army displayed weakness in handling its subordinate formations; not giving their subordinates definite tasks, clear intentions and allowing the subordinate formations the liberty to arrange how they would be carried out (which would appear to be a criticism of 'mission command').

Chester Wilmot casts a different light on the result of Operation Perch, calling it a strategic success. "By the premature commitment of his armour, Rommel had delayed the British advance, but in the process he had played into Montgomery's hands for, once the panzer divisions were locked into battle with Second Army, they could not be used for their proper offensive task." Historian Stephen Badsey notes that Montgomery’s message to Bradley, "Caen is the key to Cherbourg", held much truth; the British threat of a breakout past Caen immobilised the German armoured divisions forcing them remain committed on the British front and unable to counterattack the Americans. Badsey states that Hitler’s interference in the campaign saved Rommel's military reputation; due to the unsuitability of the Cotentin for armoured operations, the difficulties involved in moving and supplying such a redeployment and the strength of the Anglo-Canadian force would have led to a more rapid and complete defeat of the German army in Normandy. Badsey also notes that Hitler’s order on 12 June set the attritional agenda for the rest of the campaign.

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