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Panzers Destroyed by HMS Rodney - Counter-attack on the Orne Bridgehead

As the 21st Panzer Regiment launched a counter attack against the Orne Bridghead HMS Rodney fired a Naval Bombardment which helped stem the assault, those Germans who were there experienced the sharp end of her 16 inch guns.

The Main battery of the Nelson-class ship HMS Rodney consisted of nine breech-loading (BL) 16-inch (406 mm) guns in three triple-gun turrets forward of the superstructure. Designated 'A', 'B' and 'X' from front to rear, 'B' turret superfired over the others.

'X' Turret was traditionally manned by Royal Marines.

Their secondary armament consisted of a dozen BL 6-inch (152 mm) Mk XXII guns in twin-gun turrets aft of the superstructure, three turrets on each broadside.

HMS Rodney's 9 x 16 Inch Barrels were each capable of firing 2 shells per minute out to a range of 23 Miles.

The shells weighing 1 Ton or 2,375 pounds (1,077 kg) could travel at nearly 1,800 MPH, (2,586 feet/second) (788 m/s) at a maximum range of 39,780 yards (36,375 m) or 23 Miles.

Extract from "The Memoirs of Colonel Hans Von Luck"

"Von Luck's combat group will assemble on the morning of 9 June for a decisive attack on Escoville, advance on Ranville, and take possesion of the Orne bridges. Assigned to it for this purpose will be: Panzer Reconnaisance Battalion 21, No 4 Company of Panzer Regiment 22, three batteries of Major Becker's Assault-gun Battalion 200, and one Company of Anti-tank Battalion 220 with 8.8cm guns. The division's artillery will support the attack within the limits of it's supply of ammunition"

Speaking at a briefing late on the evening of the 8th June he continued

"We assemble before dawn, before the enemy air force can intervene or the navy be effective. The motorcycle escorts of the reconnaisance battalion and the grenadiers of II Battalion not tied down by the enemy will lead, followed by I Battalion, and supported by the tanks of No 4 Company, as well as Becker's SPWs. The 8.8cm antitank guns will take up positions on the hill south of Escoville, to ward off counterattacks by British tanks."

On the 9th June between 0315 and 0335 hours RODNEY fired 78 rounds of 16in in support of the 185th Brigade of the British 3rd Division against the 21st SS Panzer Division.

Later that day she fired 75 rounds of 16in against tanks of the 21st SS Panzer Division near Caen. It should only have been 15 rounds, but the telegraphist who took the radio message wrote his 'ones' in the continental manner, ie like a seven, so an additional 60 rounds were fired.

A signal was received in plain language from HMS Newcastle, the Gunnery Control ship at the beachhead. She was responsible for calling up whatever kind of fire was needed, from the ships at the disposal of the Senior Gunnery Officer.

The signal read: 'Fire 15 rounds H.E. 16- inch shell at position…’ Firing commenced and then a signal from Newcastle was later received, quite to the point: 'CEASE FIRE'.

Near the end of the bombardment the senior British naval officer off Gold Sector had demanded:

Report why you have fired so many rounds?

Receiving this, Captain Fitz Roy, 'who was enjoying himself asked:

How many rounds have we fired?

He was told: Sixty-eight, Sir!

Fitz Roy responded: We might as well complete the seventy-five. Carry on firing!

Ian Hamilton gave his version of how the mystery was solved:

When we completed the firing, we puzzled over the Flag Officer's signal. The signalman was summoned: 'Did you get that signal from Flag Officer Gold, correctly?' The signalman looked at his pad: 'Yes, Sir. Fire fifteen rounds of 16-inch H.E. shell at AFV concentration, map reference...

It was pointed out that the signal appeared to say: Seventy Five rounds

The Telegraphist (signalman) replied: No, Sir. Fifteen rounds. I always make my one's with a tick at the front

The use of so much 16-inch ammunition by mistake was a serious error, as Midshipman Morris confided in his journal that night.

'This of course sadly depleted our stock of valuable 16-inch HE shells of which there were only 900 left in the country.'

But its effect was devistating.

From memoirs

"We assembled an hour before dawn. I travelled with a little command group behind the reconnaisance battalion, so that I could make decisions on the spot. During the night we had been plastered with heavy naval fire and bombs. Our preparations had evidently been spotted. Lance Corporal Hammel, who took part in the attack as a motorcycle escort, recalls, "With support from the tanks and assault guns we soon forced our way into Escoville........The british of the 6th Airborne Division put up fierce resistance. When it became light, heavy fire from the navy began to fall on the centre of the village and it's southern edge. we could make no progress."

Quote from the memoirs from Werner Kortenhaus, a tank commander in No 4 Company;

That day (June 9) for us was one of the hardest actions ever. We assembled with about ten tanks under the trees of the avenue south of Escoville.
We drove with closed ports, one tank after the other, to the right past the chateau into a large meadow, which was enclosed by hedges. There we intended switching to broad wedge formation for attack, the grenadiers behind and alongside us.
Then everything happened very quickly: within a few minutes we had lost four tanks, knocked out by naval guns. On my tank (a Mk IV with the short barrel) the turret jammed, so that I could only shoot into the hedges with my machine gun. The fire became more intense, so that on orders from Major von Luck we had to withdraw, as did the grenadiers.
The artillery fire continued unabated. Some 30 or 40 grenadiers must have been killed by it.

The following from the Iain Ballantyne Website:

Hausser and the other German commanders were unaware Britain’s top secret code-breaking centre had provided key information. Bletchley Park’s deep and repeated penetration of wireless and signals traffic handed the Allies a decisive edge.

Yet, even without decrypting the wireless transmissions and signals, via something called the Traffic Analysis method Allied commanders were able to identify both their origin and which units they were from. Decrypts, combined with Traffic Analysis, explain why the Allies often knew the exact intentions of German commanders. They were able to strike with naval gunfire and artillery while tanks and panzer grenadiers were gathering for an attack.

Carpet-bombing by the Allied air forces often inflicted destruction on empty woods and fields. More responsive naval guns and Army artillery could be directed with far greater precision against tank hides and bunkers.

Nevertheless, the psychological impact of aerial bombing combined with the guns of the Navy and Army inflicted Hell on earth upon the enemy. Some German troops were literally driven insane and even resorted to shooting themselves, rather than endure further bombardment. In one episode where Bletchley’s code-breakers played a vital role, some 50 out of 127 German tanks massing for an attack were wiped out.

The UK’s official naval historian, Captain Stephen Roskill, writing in 1960, chose to highlight HMS Rodney’s remarkable fire mission against German troops and tanks on 30 June 1944.

At the time of writing, Roskill was not able to do more than hint at the remarkable advantages the Allies enjoyed, for Bletchley’s work was still being kept under wraps. ‘… the Rodney astonished the Germans by planting her 16-inch shells squarely on tanks which were massing for a counter-attack 17 miles inland from the “Gold” beaches,’ Roskill explained. ‘Again and again did such ships earn the warm appreciation of the soldiers, and the frequent lamentations of the German army commanders also testify to the effectiveness of the naval gunfire.’

HMS Rodney’s men were immensely pleased to hear their ship’s bombardments shattered enemy morale. One German soldier allegedly said as he surrendered: ‘We’ll fight you. We’ll fight your tanks, but those naval guns are too much.’

Some of Rodney’s sailors [and Marines] received an opportunity to go ashore and gain a closer look at the battlefield. One excursion, at the invitation of the Guards Armoured Brigade, saw Rodney’s men boarding trucks to head for Tilly.


June 1944

3rd – At 1600 hours RODNEY, the cruiser SIRIUS, destroyer WESTCOTT and frigate RIOU sailed from Greenock and headed south to take part in Operation NEPTUNE/OVERLORD.At 1900 hours RODNEY’s CO addressed the ships company, informing them of the operation and telling them that RODNEY was to be a standby bombardment vessel for the Eastern Task Force.

4th – At 0800 hours RODNEY’s group were in the St George’s Channel, west of the Smalls light, when they received the signal postponing the invasion for 24 hours. The group turned around and steered north.At 1500 hours when off Anglesey, they stopped their northerly movement and cruised off the island to await the order to resume their southerly course.

At 2200 hours they were ordered to resume their southerly movement.

5th – At 0700 hours when off Lands End, WESTCOTT detached to refuel and the destroyer BLEASDALE joined.At 2100 hours RODNEY’s group arrived in Spithead where they anchored to await orders.

6th – At 0230 hours RODNEY, SIRIUS, RIOU and BLEASDALE sailed for Sword Beach.On arrival off the beachhead they were ordered to return to Spithead.

7th – At 0245 hours RODNEY, SIRIUS, RIOU and BLEASDALE sailed for the Normandy beachhead.

At 0930 hours they arrived off the American beachhead where they joined the US battleships ARKANSAS, TEXAS and NEVADA and the heavy cruiser TUSCALOOSA.

There were no targets for RODNEY in the American sector so the group sailed east to the British beaches.At 1830 hours off Juno Beach RODNEY opened fire on the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitlerjugend" who were driving the 9th Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division back from Authie, north west of Caen.

RODNEY fired 132 rounds of 16in and 99 rounds of 6in.

(After this bombardment a German officer stated that the concentrated fire was such as had never been seen before on any European battlefield and officers and men were totally demoralised)

8th – At 0900 hours carried out a 6in shoot in support of the 3rd Canadian Division, against a fortified farm held by the 12th SS Panzer Division.Late in the evening the Luftwaffe attacked shipping off the beachhead. In the attack RODNEY was near missed by 4 bombs.

9th – Between 0315 and 0335 hours RODNEY fired 78 rounds of 16in in support of the 185th Brigade of the British 3rd Division against the 21st SS Panzer Division.

Later RODNEY fired 75 rounds of 16in against tanks of the 21st SS Panzer Division near Caen. It should only have been 15 rounds, but the telegraphist who took the radio message wrote his 'ones' in the continental manner, ie like a seven, so an additional 60 rounds were fired.

At 0900 hours RODNEY carried out a 6in blind shoot against a German troop assembly area.

At 1100 hours RODNEY carried out a 6in shoot against German troops and vehicles near Caen. Followed by 7 rounds of 16in AP against the Benneville battery.

Later in the day RODNEY carried out a 6in shoot against the Houlgate battery (4 ex French 155mm guns).

At 1600 hours RODNEY came under air attack from 12 Me 109 and Fw 190 fighter bombers all the bombs missed.

At 1700 hours RODNEY, the cruiser DRAGON escorted by RIOU and BLEASDALE sailed from the beachhead for Milford Haven, where RODNEY was to re-ammunition.

10th – At 1500 hours RODNEY, RIOU and BLEASDALE arrived at Milford Haven.Re-ammunitioned with 260 HE and 610 AP 16in shells and 2400 HE 6in shells. The 16in shells were the last available in the UK.

11th – At 1400 hours RODNEY, RIOU and BLEASDALE sailed from Milford Haven.At 2100 hours RIOU attacked a sub contact and damaged her engines. RIOU detached to Plymouth

12th – At 0730 hours RODNEY and BLEASDALE arrived in Spithead.

On arrival BLEASDALE was withdrawn from operational duty for the removal of wire from her propeller shafting.

18th – RODNEY escorted by the destroyers SCOURGE, FURY and ALGONQUIN (ALGONQUIN had embarked General Crerar and 22 Staff Officers for passage to Assault Area) sailed from Spithead for the beachhead.On arrival at the beachhead RODNEY anchored off Juno Beach.

19th – At 0100 hours the weather off the beaches started to deteriorate, the wind, blowing from the north easterly direction grew in intensity from force 4.At 1800 hours the wind speed was force 5 with waves of 6½ feet. (All storm data is for Omaha Beach)

20th – At 0700 hours the wind speed was force 5 with waves of 7 feet. At 1800 hours the wind speed was force 6 with waves of 7½ feet.

21st – At 0700 hours the wind speed was force 6 with waves of 7½ feet.At 1800 hours the wind speed was force 5 with waves of 7 feet.

22nd – At 0700 hours the wind speed was force 4 with waves of 5½ feet.

23rd – At 2330 hours RODNEY was subjected to an attempted dive bombing attack by a Ju 88, but the attacker was driven off by intensive AA fire.

24th – From 0015 hours through the hours of darkness RODNEY was subjected to air attack. No hits were scored.

26th – At 0800 hours RODNEY in company with the monitor ROBERTS and light cruisers ARGONAUT, BELFAST and DIADEM carried out a shoot in support of Operation EPSOM, the British VIII Corps, 15th Scottish Division leading, advance into the Odon Valley. Their target was the 1st, 9th and 12th SS Panzer Divisions.Immediately afterwards RODNEY fired 10 rounds of 16in at Carpiquet airfield which was to east of the line of advance of VIII corps; the target was the 12th SS Panzer Division.At 1230 hours RODNEY fired a further 10 rounds of 16in at Carpiquet airfield.

29th - Intelligence reported that an E-Boat attack is to be made on RODNEY. To counter the threat 37 LCT’s were positioned around RODNEY.

30th – At 1400 hours RODNEY was off Gold Beach when she carried out a one hour shoot firing 16in shells into the village of Gavrus in support of the 15th Scottish Division who had earlier been forced out of Gavrus by 1st SS Panzer Division. RODNEY’s bombardment had a devastating effect on enemy morale.

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