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European Campaign - Part III: Operation Vital Ground
by Paul Rohrbaugh

Operation Vital Ground: The Battle for Abbey Ardenne

Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s defense plans at Normandy called for immediate counter-attacks to drive the Allies from the breaches. The first of these counter-attacks was delivered by the newly formed 12th SS, Hitler Youth Division. The SS Panzergrenadiers ran head-on into advancing elements of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and their supporting armor.


"They fought like lions on both sides so that the dead lay corpse by corpse. We searched every house, every courtyard, to avoid ambush. And here is the confirmation of how ferocious last night's battle must have been. The Commandos lie dead in rows beside the dead SS. Grenades are scattered all over the roads and on the porches of houses. Here we see a commando and an SS man, dead in each other's arms, having slaughtered each other. There, a German and a Canadian tank have engaged each other to destruction, and are still smouldering, and from each blackened turret hangs the charred corpse of a machine gunner. Over here are a group who ran towards the wall for shelter and were shot down before they got there. And there, by the church, as the advance guard of C Company and the carriers turn the corner, there are three Germans. Only three. But one of them instantly draws his pistol and hits one of our men. A Bren gunner kills two of the three SS men, but the survivor still does not surrender; he dodges us and gets away. Now, we understand with what kind of fanatic we have to deal."
--Account of the first day’s battles, including the one for Abbey Ardenne, by a Canadian survivor.

The battle for the Abbey Ardenne raged for most of the morning, with fighting at times raging at point-blank ranges or even hand-to-hand. Both sides inflicted heavy casualties upon one another. The Abbey Ardenne changed hands several times, but by the afternoon the Canadians withdrew to their start lines. For the rest of the Normandy Campaign, and much of the war thereafter, the Canadians and Hitler Youth were one another’s nemesis.

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