Michael Wittmann would build his reputation on the Eastern Front, but perhaps his most famous feat would take place in Villers-Bocage, a town just off the Route Nationale 13 south-west of the city of Caen. On June 13th 1944, Wittmann in his Tiger I would take on an entire British armoured column, destroying over twenty vehicles including a dozen tanks.
Villers-Bocage today is a bustling market town, and while most of the key locations mentioned in the battle reports have changed dramatically over the past seven decades, you can still follow in Wittmann’s tracks.
How to get there
From Paris and the east, head to the city of Caen on the A 13 (E46) and join the N 814 ring road (also E46). You will reach junction with the A 84 (E401) which takes you straight to Villers-Bocage. If you want to take a more scenic and historically relevant route, exit the A 84 at Grainville-sur-Odon and join the parallel D 675, which also takes you into the centre of Villers. The D 675 is the former Route Nationale 175, the road used by Michael Wittmann on 13th June 1944 when entering the town.
From the west, approach on the A 84 (E3/E401), leaving at exit 43 “Maisoncelles-Pelvey” where you will join the D 6. Head north for just under two kilometres into Villers-Bocage, entering using the D 675. To take a little more of the “scenic” D 675, leave the A 84 at exit 42, “Coulvain”. Take the fourth exit at the first roundabout onto the D 577, followed by the first exit at the second roundabout onto the D 675.
A number of points around the centre of Villers-Bocage have been helpfully signposted, but to follow in the tracks of Michael Wittmann’s Tiger you will need to head east through the town. On your left you will see a water tower, and soon after you will exit the town. After passing under the gantry for the A 84, you will see a Honda dealership on your left.
After passing a number of small settlements and the junction to the D 217 to Villy-Bocage on your left, continue a short distance where you will see a dirt track on your right and just beyond that a convenient parking bay. The parking bay is almost right at the spot where Wittmann’s Tiger would first encounter the vehicles of “A” Squadron 4CLY and A Company of the 1st Rifle Brigade on the morning of 13th June 1944: he would join the road from the direction of the dirt track which will now be on your left as you look back in the direction of Villers-Bocage.
To follow on the trail of the Tiger, turn around and head back into town. You can mark Wittmann’s progress on the Mission Maps, passing through the points where he would encounter the vehicles of the 4CLY’s Regimental HQ and onto what is now Place du Maréchal Leclerc, where the German Panzer would be forced into making his way back after running into the Fireflies of 4CLY’s “B” Squadron. If you really want to you can turn back on yourself again, but it would be a better idea just to park in front of one of the many bistros and brasseries on the street.
To see where Wittmann’s Tiger would prematurely finish its morning mission outside the Huet-Godefroy clothing store, just take the walk back up Place du Maréchal Leclerc towards the new town hall (“Hôtel de Ville”). This is pretty much right at the spot where the store once stood.
Villers-Bocage, Basse-Normandie, France
49.080522 N, 0.655118 W