commanding Fifth Panzer Army.
The battle for Rouen, dated July 28th 1944.
I had deployed along the Seine, with Pz Lehr occupying a fortified line in the centre, its right flank resting on swampy ground. To its left was a vital village held by 243rd infantry division, a veteran unit. It also was occupying a fortified line but had to protect a long front out to its left, through light woodland. I allocated a battalion of Tiger I to support it. In reserve was 21st Panzer division equipped mainly with Panzer IVh. This had the additional task of protecting the command centre and supply dumps around wooded ground to the rear of the village.
The Corps commander was awoken by the noise of heavy aircraft, this heralded the arrival of a British heavy bombardment group which bombed our positions, however many of the bombs were seen to land on the far side of the river, directly on the British positions. Our losses were fairly light and it is rumoured that the British took almost as many casualties as us as they were assembled ready to attack. However one important unit was disrupted, the infantry defending the bunkers on our left flank, as will be shown below. At the same time, an AGRA stomp landed in our rear area, fortunately it landed on an area of dummy positions and caused no damage. Next a naval bombardment fell on the village but caused little damage.
British divisions then attacked all along our front. In the centre a weak force moved into covered positions on the other side of the river to Pz Lehr, while others moved towards the swampy ground to our right. This was just a demonstration but appeared to be a credible threat at the time and kept the attention of the commander of Pz Lehr.
On the left, the British advance was slowed by the river, but was soon across, the bridging teams were very efficient. The attack was concentrated on a fairly narrow frontage, with only a few battalions facing it. The main unit defending this area was the infantry in the bunkers, which, being disrupted by the bombers, was unable to prevent the crossing or significantly slow the British advance. A prolonged firefight now ensued, the British taking a large number of casualties and many units being disrupted, while they inflicted few casualties on the fortified defenders. The lack of any British artillery support was very noticeable, and while ground attack aircraft appeared occasionally over the battlefield, they were driven off by accurate anti-aircraft fire. A prisoner reported that Montgomery had entrusted the operation to a subordinate who had failed to ready all of the equipment in time for the attack.
The British were however, able to push fresh units through to the front, having three infantry divisions and an armoured division (7th) to call upon, whereas the German infantry were slowly being disrupted. The Tiger tanks were in heavy protection but this made them difficult to manoeuvre. Meanwhile the naval artillery was disrupting the right flank infantry defending the village.
Eventually, the bunker complex was assaulted by an assault engineer battalion, and once that was taken the morale of the 243rd infantry suddenly collapsed despite the personal intervention of the Corps commander. Just as it was about to attack, the Tiger battalion was caught up in the panic and also retreated. The retreat of this division caught the German command by surprise and there was no immediate response. The village, now being empty, was rapidly occupied by the left most British infantry division.
Pz Lehr was still fixed by the British forces on the far side of the Seine and would not give up its fortified positions, so 21st Panzer was ordered to halt the British. However with many of its units committed to protecting the rear echelon from a possible attack by the victorious British units now moving away from the river line to its left, it could only make desultory attacks. The British, having most of their units disrupted, were in no shape to exploit the attack and concentrated their armour around the village.
Thus the battle petered out on 24th July, with the British in strength across the Seine. I have ordered the withdrawal of the Corps towards Amiens. Hopefully the arrival of the Koenig Tigers of Panzer-Abteilung 503 will slow their advance in the coming weeks.