Villers-Bocage display sign - Print on steel sign - 500mm x 178mm
The Battle of Villers-Bocage took place during the Second World War on 13 June 1944, one week after the Normandy Landings by the Western Allies to begin the conquest of German-occupied France. The battle was the result of a British attempt to improve their position, by exploiting a gap in the German defences west of the city of Caen. After one day of fighting in and around the small town of Villers-Bocage and a second day defending a position outside the town, the British force retired.
The Allies and the Germans regarded control of Caen as vital to the Normandy battle. In the days following the D-Day landings on 6 June, the Germans rapidly established strong defences in front of the city. On 9 June a two-pronged British attempt to surround and capture Caen was defeated but on the right flank of the British Second Army, the 1st U.S. Infantry Division had forced back the German 352nd Infantry Division and opened a gap in the German front line. Seizing the opportunity to bypass the German Panzer-Lehr Division, which was blocking the direct route south in the area of Tilly-sur-Seulles, a mixed force of tanks, infantry and artillery, based on the 22nd Armoured Brigade of the 7th Armoured Division, advanced through the gap in a flanking manoeuvre towards Villers-Bocage. British commanders hoped that the appearance of a strong force in their rear would force the Panzer-Lehr Division to withdraw or be surrounded.
Under the command of Brigadier William "Loony" Hinde, the 22nd Armoured Brigade group reached Villers-Bocage without serious incident in the morning of 13 June. The leading elements advanced eastwards from the town on the Caen road to Point 213, where they were ambushed by Tiger I tanks of the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. In fewer than 15 minutes numerous tanks, anti-tank guns and transport vehicles were destroyed, many by SS-Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann. The Germans then attacked the town and were repulsed, losing several Tigers and Panzer IV. After six hours Hinde ordered a withdrawal to a more defensible position on a knoll west of Villers-Bocage. Next day the Germans attacked the defensive "Brigade Box" in the Battle of the Island. The British inflicted a costly repulse on the Germans and then retired from the salient. The Battle for Caen continued east of Villers-Bocage, which was captured in ruins on 4 August, after two raids by the strategic bombers of the Royal Air Force.
The British conduct of the Battle of Villers-Bocage has been controversial, because the British withdrawal marked the end of the post D-Day "scramble for ground" and the start of an attritional battle for Caen. Historians have written that the British attack was a failure, caused by a lack of conviction among some senior commanders rather than the fighting power of the German army, although some judge the British force to have been insufficient for the task. The "single-handed" attack by Wittmann early on, has excited imaginations to the extent that some historians and writers conclude that it has dominated the historical record to an unwarranted degree and that while "remarkable", the role of Wittmann in the battle has been exaggerated.