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History of the 272nd at Caen, July 1944
By Doug Nash


The 272nd Infantry Division was formed in Belgium beginning on 12 December 1943 from the remnants of the Hanoverian 216th Infantry Division, which had been decimated on the Eastern Front and disbanded the month before.  The entire staff of the 216th, its signal battalion, divisional support units, and most of its artillery regiment were simply re-designated with the new divisional number.  Grenadier Regiments 396 and 398 were disbanded, except the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Regiment 396, which was re-designated as Füsilier Battalion 272.  Its commander, Generalleutnant Friedrich August Schack, was carried over from his previous command of the 216th

Only Grenadier Regiment 348, under the command of Oberstleutnant Burian, was withdrawn from Russia in its entirety, to be re-designated as Grenadier Regiment 980.  Both Grenadier Regiments 981 and 982 were created from reserve and training battalions of the 182nd Reserve Division, consisting almost entirely of native German personnel or Reichsdeutsche.  The combat engineer and antitank battalions were formed from scratch using elements forwarded from the Replacement Army.

The new 272nd Infantry Division trained in the Bevern area in Belgium while under the command and control of the Fifteenth Army.  In April 1944 it was sent to the French Mediterranean Coast to continue its training plan and to conduct security duties near the Franco-Spanish border while under the control of the Nineteenth Army.  By 19 June, it reported that its present for duty strength was 11,211 men and 1,514 Russian auxiliaries or Hiwis, for a total of 12,725 men, close to its authorized strength. 

Due to the deteriorating situation on the Normandy Front, the division was shipped via rail beginning 2 July 1944, experiencing numerous Allied air attacks and Maquis ambushes along the way that slowed its movement to a crawl and caused it to arrive at the front piecemeal.  Force to unload its trains at the Loire River, the division had to make the remaining 180-kilometer trip to Normandy on foot, marching mostly by night to avoid Allied fighter-bombers.  By midnight on 13 July, enough of the division had arrived to begin movement into the front lines, where its first three battalions found themselves placed under the control of the I SS-Panzer Corps and tasked to begin the relief in place of the battered 1st SS-Panzer Division “Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler” (LSSAH).  Division headquarters was established in Fresnay. 

These three battalions and the supporting artillery battalion, as well as Füsilier Battalion 272, found themselves immediately involved in battle.  By the end of 16 July, the division had already suffered 933 casualties.  By the 17th of July, most of the 272nd Infantry Division had arrived at the front and was immediately placed into line.  Grenadier Regiments 980 and 982 were holding the front line, which stretch from the right flank at the Caen railway station to the left flank at Maltot.  The following day, 18 July 1944, the British began their long-awaited offensive, Operation GOODWOOD, designed to allow their Second Army to break out of the beachhead and seize Caen once and for all.  Using seven armored and two infantry divisions, the British intended to smash the German defenses and punch a way through to Falaise and open the road to Paris. 

On the first day, the British were able to advance seven kilometers with the support of over 2,100 heavy and medium bombers blasting the way clear for the tanks and ground troops.  German losses were heavy, but the 1st and 12th SS-Panzer Divisions, 21st Panzer Division, and the 272nd Infantry Division fought back desperately.  At one point, the 272nd lost contact with its left and right neighbors, and found itself two kilometers ahead of the German front line, forcing it to conduct a fighting withdrawal back to the new German main line of resistance.  The artillery regiment frequently found its batteries placed in the direct fire role in order to keep the onrushing British tanks at bay, its guns frequently firing up to 600 rounds a day.  By 20 July, Caen had fallen, but the British advance was held up by the German defenses along the Verrières Ridge, held in part by the stalwart Grenadiers of the 272nd Infantry Division.  Most of the division’s infantry battalions by that point had suffered losses between 40 and 50 percent. 

The Division’s outstanding performance in the fighting near Caen was recognized in the Wehrmachtsbericht of 24 July 1944, which announced to the German people “In the Caen area, the 272nd Infantry Division, under the inspirational leadership of Generalleutnant Schack, has especially distinguished itself through its tough defense and magnificent counterattacks.”

At 0200 hours on 25 July after a six-hour long preparatory barrage, the British continued their attack and were able to punch a seven-kilometer wide breach in the German line between the Orne River and the Bougebus Ridge.  British Shermans were reported approaching the Verrières Ridge at 0700 hours, though the batteries of the 272nd Infantry Division and the 12th SS-Panzer Division, as well as 88mm Flak of the 16th Luftwaffe Feld-Division, slowed the onrushing attack and in some instances forced the British to turn back after inflicting heavy losses. 

Counterattacks were carried out throughout the 25th and 26th of July by Heer and Waffen-SS troops and tanks, so that by the evening of 26th July, the tip of the British spearhead had been broken off and the front line pushed back between two and three kilometers.  The next evening, the exhausted survivors of the 272nd were pulled out of line and sent to a quiet area on the front line near the town of Troarn to rest, reconstitute and take in replacements.  It continued to reorganize until 3 August, absorbing the bulk of the disbanded 16th Luftwaffe Field-Division.  This brought the 272nd back up to 50 – 60% of its authorized strength.  By being transferred to the Troarn area, it also managed to avoid being trapped in the Falaise Pocket.  Though it had managed to emerge victorious after contributing more than its fair share towards the effort to stop Operation Goodwood, much more lay ahead – fighting at Troan, retreat across the Dives, the tank battle at Lisieux, and the retreat across the Seine and the low countries. 

Though not as glamorous as their Kameraden from the highly-vaunted Waffen-SS, the ordinary Grenadiers of the 272nd had acquitted themselves very well indeed, helping to stop numerous tank-heavy British assaults even though it lacked armor of its own.  Using Panzerfausts, hand grenade bundles, antitank guns, and sheer guts, the 272nd Infantry Division had racked up almost 100 tank kills in ten days of combat, while undergoing some of the fiercest bombardments of the Normandy Campaign, a feat rarely equaled by any other German infantry division at the time.
  


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