By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos: Editions Lecoq
Caen is about 9 mi (14 km) inland from the Calvados coast and is astride the Orne River and Caen Canal at the junction of several roads and railways, which made it an important operational objective for both sides.
Caen and the area to the south was flatter and more open than the bocage country in western Normandy and the Allied air force commanders wanted the land captured quickly, to base more aircraft in France.
The Battle for Caen, which lasted for two months, from June to August 1944, resulted in the vast majority of the city destroyed by aerial bombardment and vicious street to street fighting and civilian casualties estimated at 3,000 dead and thousands more injured.
On 6 June American bombers, aiming to knock out bridges on river Orne, missed their targets and destroyed sections of an unsuspecting city. Over 300 people died. This was just the beginning.
Just nine miles south of the D-Day beaches, the Allies expected to liberate Caen quickly. The city was vital for transport through the region and if left in German hands would give German reinforcements good access to the coast.
But they had underestimated resistance by German Panzer divisions who held the Allies away from Caen for some weeks. Eventually a major assault was planned on the city for 8 July. Bombers would prepare the way. They started on 7 July.
Survivors always said 7 July was the worst day for Caen. On that day records show Lancaster and Halifax bombers dropped 2500 tons of bombs on the city.
Although parts of Caen were liberated on 9 July, still the enemy resist and the Allies could not get across the Orne river that bisects the city. A further 7,000 tons of bombs and 250,000 shells were aimed at Caen. Finally the enemy are completely pushed back on 21 July.
The Battle for Caen (June to August 1944) is the name for the fighting between the British Second Army and German Panzergruppe West in the Second World War for control of the city of Caen and vicinity, during the Battle of Normandy. The battles followed Operation Neptune, the Allied landings on the French coast on 6 June 1944 (D-Day).