Flight Lt Charley Fox leaning on the wing of his Spitfire with its 20mm cannon

Flight Lt. Charley Fox leaning on the wing of his Spitfire with its 20mm cannon
Photo Credit: Dept National Defence PL-29263

History July 17, 1944- The Canadian who changed the course of WWII

Share

July 17, 1944 in Normandy France was a beautiful summer day. To the west, the Allies were in a bitter struggle but continuing to push inward from the beaches and coastal towns against determined resistance from German forces.

Since January the German defences in Normandy had been under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, a senior officer not only idolized in Germany, but even highly respected by the Allies.

Erwin Rommel, Der Wustenfuchs took over command on Normandy defence in january 1944, and immediately began improvements. If all of his orders had been carried out by reluctant officers, the outcome of D-Day might have been different. His view that a landing must be stopped on the beaches was not widely held by the High Command
Erwin Rommel, Der Wustenfuchs (desert fox) took over command of Normandy defence in January 1944, and immediately began improvements. If all of his orders had been carried out by reluctant officers, the outcome of D-Day might have been different. His view that a landing must be stopped on the beaches was not widely held by the High Command.

Unlike most of the German High Command, Rommel was well aware of the Allies abilities to recover from attacks, and of their ability to control the air war, which he knew was a critical element.

Also unlike most of the High Command, he also knew that Allies must be defeated on the beaches, which differed from the accepted German plan to counter-attack once the Allies had established a beachhead. Rommel, with his experience in North Africa knew that if the Allies were able to establish a foothold in Normandy, Germany could not win the war.

RCAF 412 Squadron Spitfires at their base in Beny-sur-Mer operating from a makeshift dir airstrip. Note the D-Day paint scheme -black and white stripes on the planes. The lead plane is a MkIX with 4-blade prop and 20mm wing cannon.
RCAF 412 Squadron Spitfires at their base in Beny-sur-Mer 1944 operating from a makeshift dirt airstrip. Note the D-Day paint scheme -black and white stripes on the planes. The lead plane is a MkIX with 4-blade prop and 20mm wing cannon.

In July, with the feeling that Germany would eventually lose, he nonetheless was dedicated to fighting as best as he could with his resources. However, it appears he had also begun sounding out other senior officers about their views on continuing the war, apparently with an idea of negotiating a secret peace with the Allied commander, General Montgomery.

Canadian Charley Fox changes the direction of the war

In the early evening of July 17, the “Desert Fox” was heading back to his headquarters after meeting with the commander of the 1st SS Panzer Corps, Sepp Dietrich and being assured that the tank commander Dietrich would follow him in whatever he was planning, even against Hitler’s own orders.

Both knew that the Allies basically now ruled the skies over that part of Normandy and Dietrich suggested that Rommel take the back roads and use a small and less conspicuous Kubelwagen.  Rommel ignored the idea and left in his large open Horch staff car.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in his Horch staff car. Unlike many officers, he liked to sit up front. had he been tn the back, he might not have suffered the severe head injuries from the crash which ended his war, and which changed the course of the Normany campaign which continued without the leadership of one of Germany’s best leaders.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in his Horch staff car. Unlike many officers, he liked to sit up front. had he been tn the back, he might not have suffered the severe head injuries from the crash which ended his war, and which changed the course of the Normany campaign which continued without the leadership of one of Germany’s best leaders.

It was early evening when the car was travelling quickly down a road near Ste Foy de Montgommery when spotted by a Canadian Spitfire pilot of  RCAF 412 Squadron.

Charley Fox peeled off and with his wingman turned in low sweeping dive to come up behind the staff car and firing a burst from his 20mm cannon.

The car was struck and drove off the road.

“I spotted a large black car travelling at high speed along a road with trees on either side. It was coming towards us, on my left, at about 11 o’clock. I maintained steady, level flight until the vehicle passed us at 9 o’clock. I then began a curving, diving attack to my left, with my number two following to watch my tail. The other two aircraft maintained their height, keeping an eye out for enemy activity. I started firing at approximately 300 yards, and hit the staff car, causing it to crash. At the time, I had no idea who it was…just a large black open car…gleaming in the sun without any camouflage, which was unusual.”

Fox did not know who it was, but the shots fatally wounded the driver, and Rommel suffered severe injury from the crash that ended his war.

A painting by Lance Russwurm shows the Canadian Spitfire (with D-day wing markings) making the strafing attack that ended the career of one of Germany’s best senior commanders who controlled the Normandy front.
A painting by Lance Russwurm shows the Canadian Spitfire (with D-day wing markings) making the strafing attack that ended the career of one of Germany’s best senior commanders who controlled the Normandy front. © http://www.spitcrazy.com/russwurmart.htm.

When Fox learned later that he had taken out Rommel, the Canadian was of mixed feelings.

By taking one of Germany’s best tactical senior commanders out of the war, he changed the course of the war and thus may have greatly helped the Allied cause.  However, on the other hand he and historians have often wondered exactly what Rommel was planning in relation to Hitler, and a peace with the Allies. Thus Charley wondered that if he hadn’t shot at Rommel, would the officer have managed to end the war early?

Flight Lt. Charley Fox, DFC and Bar, CD
Flight Lt. Charley Fox, DFC and Bar, CD . his actions changed the course of the war in Europe, but he was always of mixed emotions about the attack

The Americans quickly claimed it was one of their P-47 pilots who hit Rommel’s car, but Germans clearly said it was a Spitfire.

Close examination of flight logs show only Fox’s group was in the air at the right time and place.

In any case the German plot and bomb attack against Hitler took place on July 20, and Rommel’s name came up in interrogation. Although likely not a party to the attack he was blamed as a conspirator and was offered to commit suicide to protect his family from retribution, which he did in October.

As an aside, Charley Fox may have taken part in what was the last combat air patrol, or at least one of the very last patrols.

On May 4th, 1945 a message was read in the 126 Wing officers mess: “From 83 Group Headquarters to all units – all hostilities on the second front will cease at 0800 hours – tomorrow, May 5th, 1945.”

A book about the remarkable career of Charley Fos, by Steve Pitt, published by Dundurn Press
A book about the remarkable career of Charley Fos, by Steve Pitt, published by Dundurn Press Cover art by Lance Russwurm © Dundurn Press

Rousing cheers were heard and a party began which continued well into the night. Then  the Wing Commander decided to take three others and go on a final flight. Charley Fox in a Spitfire Mk-IX took off with the group at 06;30. The group flew around (one wonders about their condition for this !) and landed again at 0800 at the time of ceasefire, thus making one of the last, if not the very last air patrol of the war.

Charley Fox continued his connection with flying right into his later years and passed away in 2008.

additional information-sources

Share
Categories: Society
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.

*