Operation Charnwood was the name given to the Allies attempt to liberate the Normandy city of Caen from German occupation. Caen was the principal target for the Allies after the success of D-Day but their efforts from June 6th to early July had been unsuccessful. Operation Charnwood was mostly successful and by the time the operation was over, most the Caen was in the hands of the Allies – though huge damage had been done to the city.
While the landings on D-Day, June 6th, had by and large been extremely successful, they had taken away any element of surprise that the Allies had. Hitler had become convinced that any Allied landing in France would be in the Pays de Calais region and many troops and their equipment were stationed there. As soon as it became obvious that Normandy was the Allies target, a great deal of equipment was transferred to the region. Montgomery had hoped that Allied troops would be in Caen by the end of June 6th but his hopes were quickly dashed. It soon became clear that the Germans would be willing to put up a strong fight for Normandy and for Caen in particular. Both sides recognised the importance of controlling the city. It was no coincidence that the Germans kept many experienced SS Panzer units in and around the city. German troops were also dug in at the Verrières Ridge, an important strategic position three miles to the south of Caen.
The Allies had attempted to capture Caen before Operation Charnwood. None of these operations had been successful and were indicative of how determined the Germans were to maintain control of the city. Operation Charnwood lasted just two days from July 8th to July 9th. The ground attack was preceded by an aerial bombardment that destroyed or badly damaged much of the city. As men and vehicles from British I Corps advanced on the city they did so behind a creeping barrage provided by the artillery. By the end of July 8th, Canadian and British troops were on the northern outskirts of the city. The Allies ventured into the city on July 9th and while they encountered some German resistance, it soon became clear that most of the German force stationed in Caen had withdrawn across the River Orne. The river ran effectively east to west and split the city in two – the northern sector and the southern. To the west of Caen was Carpiquet airfield and this was captured by the Canadians on July 9th.
Canadian and British troops met up in Caen on the north bank of the River Orne and it soon became clear that the Germans had heavily fortified the bridges that crossed the river. Satisfied with liberating the northern half of the city, the Allies brought an end to Operation Charnwood. Caen was finally cleared of Germans as a result of Operation Goodwood, which started just a week later.