As the headquarters of both 2nd Canadian Corps and 1st Canadian Army began to establish themselves on French soil at the end of June - but with no room in the bridgehead yet to deploy forces for them to command - the 1st British Corps prepared to carry out General Montgomery's instruction to the British 2nd Army to "develop operations for the capture of Caen as opportunity offers-and the sooner the better." Plans had previously been prepared by the 1st British Corps during during Operation EPSOM, another attempt to encircle Caen that covered several days of fighting between 25 and 28 June. One plan, code named ABERLOUR had envisioned an attack by the British 3rd Division with the Canadian 9th Brigade attached, but events on the 8th Corps front cancelled this plan. Another plan code-named OTTAWA envisioned an attack by the 3rd Canadian Division with the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade in support, striking at the town of Carpiquet from the north. This too was cancelled after detailed planning. A new operation was drawn up and scheduled for 30 June, now envisioning an attack on Carpiquet from the west.3
The 8th Infantry Brigade with Royal Winnipeg Rifles attached was now tasked with taking both Carpiquet and the airfield. The 10th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Fort Garry Horse) were to provide armoured support along with three squadrons of tanks from the British 79th Armoured Division (one each of Sherman flails, Churchill Crocodiles and AVsRE). The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa were to add their supporting fire from machine guns and 4.2" mortars to that of no less than 12 field, eight medium and one heavy artillery regiment, as well as offshore bombardment by ships of the Royal Navy. Finally, and additionally, air support both pre-arranged and on-call was arranged for the new plan, now dubbed Operation WINDSOR.4 All told, this accounted for 760 artillery pieces, not counting the 16-inch guns of HMS Rodney nor the 15-inch guns of HMS Roberts.5
The plan of attack (as outlined in the 17-page operation order) was for the North Shore Regiment and Le Régiment de la Chaudière to attack the village of Carpiquet and the north hangars, each with a squadron of Fort Garry Horse in support, reinforced by the special armour of the 79th Division. Simultaneously, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles would advance on the south hangars of the airfield, supported by the Fort Garry Horse's third squadron. The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment was to provide a diversion with its Shermans to the north of the battle area. The second phase of Operation WINDSOR would involve the Queen's Own Rifles passing through Carpiquet to take the control buildings of the airfield.6
The 1st Battalion of the 26th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment had some 200 men defending the village of Carpiquet and the airfield itself on 4 July 1944. The defences at the airfield included strong concrete positions originally built by the Luftwaffe.7
Taking over positions previously held by the British 43rd Division as an assembly area on D-1, the Canadians were spotted moving into position and shelled and mortared heavily. At H-Hour, 0500 on 4 July, the attack went off behind a barrage from 6 field and 2 medium regiments, to which the Germans immediately responded with a counter-barrage, catching the leading companies as they crossed the start line. HMS Rodney also fired 15 rounds from its 16-inch guns in the direction of Carpiquet, from a range of 26,200 yards.8 Nonetheless, the North Shore Regiment reached their objective by 0632 and the Chauds to the right also reached the village despite the shellfire. The village contained just 50 German soldiers as the two Canadian battalions set about clearing it.9
The Royal Winnipeg Rifles were also heavily mortared on their start line, and they encountered heavy machine gun fire from the south hangars. Their tank support remained in fire positions to their rear, and one troop had to be requested to move forward. The first two companies did not reach the hangars until 0900, yet resistance was so stubborn that not even tank fire and flame-throwing Crocodiles could evict the Germans from pillboxes sited there. Heavy fire swept the area from high ground in the vicinity of the airfield control buildings (where a battery of 8.8cm anti-aircraft guns of Flakabteilung 12 was emplaced) and the Winnipegs were forced to withdraw to a sparse copse of trees near their start line. A second attempt to advance at 1600 met equally fierce resistance, and five Panzerkampfwagen IV tanks (of No. 9 Company, 12th SS Panzer Regiment) were now approaching the airfield from the east. Artillery broke up the tank attack, but they quickly rallied and the Winnipegs, who had forced their companies once more to the first hangars, withdrew once again to the start line at 2100 while 44 rocket-firing aircraft were called in to attack 17 German tanks and self-propelled guns reported dug-in around the airfield.
The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment successfully carried out its diversionary attack at Château de St. Louet and Gruchy without loss; however, the Queen's Own Rifles, expected to pass through Carpiquet to execute phase two of Operation WINDSOR, were held back. The 43rd Division had likewise had success that day, occupying Verson and Fontaine-Etoupefour, but had to be withdrawn because of the failure to occupy the Carpiquet airfield.
Enemy counter-attacks came mainly in form of tank attacks supported by artillery; the 12th SS Panzer Division continued to suffer shortages of infantrymen, and a number of attacks by their Panther attacks were driven off on 5 July. Thereafter, heavy shell and mortar fire fell on the Canadians at Carpiquet, intensified by the addition of a regiment of the 7th Mortar Brigade (Werferbrigade) to the enemy's arsenal, who bombarded the village with 110-pound high explosive and oil bombs. The Canadians clung to the high ground at Carpiquet, now in an exposed salient, and the wrecked north hangars.
On 4 July, the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment suffered its heaviest single day losses of the entire campaign, and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles also had a heavy day of losses.10 The Fort Garry Horse lost a dozen tanks.11 One historian notes that "Tank casualties in comparison (to infantry) were relatively light, except for the squadron supporting the Winnipegs which lost 6 out of 15."12
On the night of 4-5 July, Carpiquet was counter-attacked by the 3rd Battalion of the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment, a component of the 1st SS Panzer Division ("Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler"). This attack was directed from the north, and the vicinity of Franqueville, being a diversion intended to permit the troops of the 12th SS to withdraw from the southern edge of the airstrip and into the perimeter on the eastern end of the field.13
The Canadians held in place under shell and mortar fire until Operation CHARNWOOD began a few days later, clearing the way into Caen. The remainder of the airfield was taken during Operation TROUSERS. By then, there was little opposition as CHARNWOOD blasted its way into Caen with the first tactical use of four-engine bombers on the British front.
The following Canadian units were awarded the Battle Honour "Carpiquet" for participation in these actions:
2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade
3rd Canadian Division
8th Canadian Infantry Brigade