After the success of the assault operations had gained us a foothold on French soil, there followed six weeks of grueling struggle to secure a lodgement area of sufficient depth in which to build up a striking force of such magnitude as to enable us to make full use of our potential material superiority. The process took longer than we had expected, largely owing to the adverse weather conditions which repeatedly interrupted the flow of men and stores across the Channel. The enemy fought tenaciously to contain our beachheads, though he was at no time able to collect the strength to constitute a serious offensive threat. Consequently our operations fell somewhat behind the planned schedule, but we were able to build up our armies to a power which made it possible, when the breakthrough came, not only to regain the time lost but to outstrip the anticipated rate of advance.
Establishment of the Lodgement Area
Our immediate need was to expand our shallow beachhead inland to a depth sufficient to secure the beaches from enemy gunfire in order that the build-up might proceed without interruption. We also had to capture the port of Cherbourg, which was essential to permit the rapid inflow of the vast stocks of war material required for future operations.
Then, as our strength grew, we needed space in which to maneuver and so dispose our forces that the best use could be made of our material assets and a decisive blow be delivered at the enemy. To this end we had to secure Caen and establish bridgeheads across the orne and Odon Rivers, to eliminate the possibility of the enemy's driving a wedge between the Allied sectors east and west of the Vire River, and to extend our hold upon the southern part of the Cotentin Peninsula.
Meanwhile the enemy found himself in a dilemma. He had pinned his faith on Rommel's policy of concentrating upon the beach defenses, and when they failed ot prevent the establishment of the Allied beachheads, he lacked any alternative means of combating the threat offered. Rommel's confidence in his mines and concrete was indeed to have disastrous results for the German Army. There being to system of defense in depth, when the beaches were forced the enemy lost the initiative and never subsequently succeeded in regaining it. The hand of von Rundstedt, endeavoring to remedy the errors of his lieutenant, became apparent after the first 2 or 3 weeks of the campaign, when desperate attempts were made to form a mobile armored striking force in reserve; but it was too late. The enemy had been forced, by reason of his shortage of infantry, to use his armor in purely defensive roles. Once this armor was so committed, our constant pressure made it impossible for the enemy to withdraw his mobile forces for more appropriate employment until early in August, when the breakthrough of the United States forces on the west flank had already sealed the fate of the German Seventh Army.
Lack of infantry was the most important cause of the enemy's defeat in Normandy, and his failure to remedy this weakness was due primarily to the success of the Allied threats leveled against the Pas-de-Calais. This threat, which had already proved of so much value in misleading the enemy as to the true objective of our invasion preparations, was maintained after 6 June, and it served most effectively to pin down the German Fifteenth Army east of the Seine while we built up our strength in the lodgement area to the west. I cannot overemphasize the decisive value of this most successful threat, which paid enormous dividends, both at the time of the assault and during the operations of the two succeeding months. The German Fifteenth Army, which, if committed to battle in June or July, might possibly have defeated us by sheer weight of numbers, remained in operative throughout the critical period of the campaign, and only when the breakthrough had been achieved were its infantry divisions brought west across the Seine--too late to have any effect upon the course of victory.
A certain amount of reinforcement of the Normandy front from other parts of France and from elsewhere in Europe did take place, but it was fatally slow. The rate of the enemy's build-up in the battle area during the first 6 weeks of the campaign averaged only about half a division per day. By 16 June he had committed his four nearest panzer divisions to battle, and
his six nearest infantry divisions were brought in by 19 June. But it was not until the beginning of July, when the scale of the Allied effort was no longer of any doubt, that reinforcements began to arrive from more distant locations.
This process of reinforcement was rendered hazardous and slow by the combined efforts of the Allied air forces and the French patriots. Despite the comparative speed with which tracks could be repaired, our prolonged bombing campaign against rail centers and marshalling yards had effected a marked reduction in the operating efficiency of the rail systems of northeast France and Belgium, and by D-day 27 percent of the locomotive servicing facilities, 13 percent of the locomotives themselves, and 8 percent of the other rolling stock had been destroyed. All but two of the Seine bridges below Paris were cut by Allied bombers before D-day, and during the subsequent weeks these surviving ones were also demolished, altogether with the principal road and rail bridges across the Loire. Thus the battle area in Normandy was virtually isolated except for the routes which led into it through the Paris-Orléans "gap" between the two rivers; there the roads and railroads inevitably became congested and afforded rich opportunities for sabotage and bombing. The Tactical Air Forces also, by a series of concentrated attacks against junctions on the edge of the tactical area during the first few days following the assault, drew a line beyond which all enemy rail movement was impossible by day. This line of interdiction originally ran through Pontaubault, Fougères, Mayenne, Alençon, Dreux, and Evreux, but was readjusted as the ground situation developed.
The consequence of these attacks upon enemy communications was that the Germans were compelled to detrain their reinforcement troops in eastern France, after a circuitous approach over a disorganized railway system, and then to move them up to the front by road. Road movement, however, was difficult by reason of the critical oil shortage, apart from the exposure of the columns to Allied bombing and strafing. During the first six months of 1944 the German oil production was reduced by at least 40 percent as a result of the bombing of the plants by the Strategic Air Forces, and the outcome was seen in the trials of the enemy reinforcements and supply columns as they struggled toward Normandy. Whole divisions were moved on seized bicycles, with much of their impedimenta on horse transport, while the heavy equipment had to follow as best it could by rail, usually arriving some time after the men. The 275th Infantry Division, for instance, took a week to move 150 miles from Fougères. It began the journey by train but was halted by bombing, then the French seized the horses which had been collected to move the division by road, and the destination was eventually reached on foot, movement being possible only at night because of the perils of air strafing by day. The 9th and 10thSS Panzer Divisions took as long to travel from eastern France to Normandy as from Poland (where they had been stationed) to the French frontier; while the men of the 16th GAF Division, having left The Hague by train on 18 June, were forced to make a grand tour of Holland, Belgium, the Rhineland, and Eastern France before they eventually reached the front on 3 July. Traveling under such conditions, the reinforcements arrived in Normandy in a piecemeal fashion, and were promptly thrown into battle while still exhausted and unorganized. By mid-July, units had been milked from Brittany, the southwest and west of France, Holland, Poland, and Norway; only the Fifteenth Army in the Pas-de-Calais, waiting for a new invasion which never came, was still untouched.
Meanwhile the Allied air forces enjoyed absolute supremacy over the battle area, as indeed over the whole of Nazi-occupied western Europe. During fine weather, a normal total of over 1,000 United States heavy bombers by day and over 1,000 RAF heavy bombers by night was dispatched on strategic missions. Their top-priority targets were the German oil refineries, synthetic oil production plants, and dumps, but they were also available for use, at my request, against tactical targets connected with the Normandy front. Unfortunately the prevalent bad weather prevented our full use of the air weapon, operations being repeatedly reduced or canceled for this cause.
The weather, however, failed to stop the AEAF (Allied Expeditionary Air Force) from constantly hammering its tactical targets. While in fine weather as many as 4,000 sorties a day were flown by aircraft of this command, the attacks were continued on the maximum scale possible even under the most adverse conditions. During the first week of the campaign the Tactical Air Forces flew some 35,000 sorties in direct support of ground troops, and by their persistent blows in subsequent weeks against their targets behind the enemy lines--transport, communications, strongpoints, airfields, fuel dumps, and troop concentrations--they caused a degree of confusion and dislocation that was essential to the success of our breakthrough in late July.
So complete was our air mastery that in fine weather all enemy movement was brought to a standstill by day, while at night the attacks were continued with the aid of flares. Von Rundstedt himself reported that the Allied tactical aircraft controlled not only the main battlefield areas but also the approach routes to a depth of over 100 miles. Even a single soldier, he claimed, was not immune from attack.
An important factor in insuring the success of our close-support air operations lay in the establishment of landing strips on French soil, from which our fighter planes could operate. Work began on the preparation of these strips as soon as we obtained a footing on shore, and, thanks to the brilliant work of our engineer services, I was able to announce on the morning of 9 June that for the first time since 1940 Allied air forces were operating from France. Within three weeks of D-day, 31 Allied squadrons were operating from the beachhead bases.
All this extremely effective use of our great air superiority was possible despite the very considerable diversion of our striking power against the enemy's preparations to attack the United Kingdom by means of flying bombs and heavier rocket projectiles. The first flying bombs fell on England during the night of 12-13 June, and the regular attacks commenced three days later. Attacks upon the V-1 sites were difficult by reason of their smallness, the effective nature of their camouflage, their comparative mobility, and the ease with which they could be repaired. For this reason it was considered more profitable to attack the supply dumps, transport facilities, and services. Below designed to delay progress on the larger, massive concrete structures, of the exact purpose of which we were at the time still uncertain, also required the attentions of large formations of heavy planes, dropping the biggest types of bombs.
In contrast to the intensity of the Allied air effort, the activities of the German Air Force, apart from sporadic fighter-bomber attacks by flights of 20 to 30 aircraft on the assault area, were limited to cautious patrolling by day and sea-mining by a small number of heavy bombers at night. We were now to reap the fruits of the long struggle for air supremacy which had cost the Allied air forces so much effort since the start of the war. Following the enemy's failure to take effective action agasint our forces during the initial stages of the assault, he remained on the defensive, being chiefly concerned with the protection of his bases, stores, and lines of communication. Aggressive support of his ground forces was noticeably lacking, and even defense of their positions against our fighter-bomber attacks was weak and desultory. The enemy was, in fact, in an awkward predicament: To take the offensive when his numerical strength was so inferior to that of the Allies was to court disaster; yet to remain always on the defensive would mean slow attrition and a decline in ground force morale because of the absence of the air cover which had played so large a part in the victories of 1940.
The number of GAF planes available for employment in the invasion area had been built up during the six weeks prior to the assault, but this increase in strength was neutralized by our air forces, and post-D-day reinforcement proved less than expected. The GAF fighter bases, from Bordeaux to Belgium, were subjected to attacks of such scope that the enemy was unable to concentrate his fighter resources over the battle zone, and his planes were thus denied effective employment. Normally the Luftwaffe fighter activities were limited to defensive patrolling behind the Germans' own lines, an average of 300-350 sorties per day being flown in fine weather, with a maximum of about 450. There was also some enemy activity against the beaches, and bombing and torpedo attacks against shipping. It was a reflection of this enemy weakness that on 14 June RAF bomber Command was able to send some 350 heavy bombers against Le Havre and Boulogne in daylight, the first daylight operation in force by the Command since early in the war, and lost only one aircraft on the operation.
When the enemy planes did come up, they showed a marked tendency to avoid combat. Only on 12 June did they react in any considerable strength when a mass onslaught was made on French airfields by 1,448 Fortresses and Liberators of the U.S. Eighth Air Force--the largest force of heavy bombers hitherto airborne on a single mission. On this occasion the enemy suffered severely at the hands of the Allied fighters and failed to reach the bombers. The reluctance normally shown to engage our planes was doubtless in part dictated by the need to conserve a depleted strength; but there was also noticeable a lack of organization and experience on the part of the German pilots. The persistent RAF night bombing attacks of the past had led the German command to concentrate on the training and development of night fighters, with the result that day fighter pilots were generally of a poorer standard and rarely a match for their Allied opponents. As a consequence of this weakness, our forces--both on operations over the
battle area and on long-range strategic daylight missions--frequently encountered no air opposition whatsoever, and the over-all weekly Allied losses averaged only about 1 percent of the aircraft employed.
The quality of the German ground forces with whom our armies came in contact varied considerably. At the top of the scale came the troops of SS panzer and parachute units, considerably better than those of the ordinary infantry divisions. Their morale, backed by a blind confidence in ultimate Nazi victory, was extremely good, and whether in attack or defense they fought to a man with a fanatical courage. But in the infantry divisions we found opponents inferior, both physically and morally, to those against whom we had fought in North Africa. The lack of air and artillery support, the break-down of ration supplies, the non-arrival of mail, the unsoldierly behavior of some of the officers, the bombing of home towns--all tended to lower the men's spirits. Perhaps two-thirds of them were under 19 or over 30 years of age, and many were obviously tired of the war. Nevertheless, they had not yet reached the dangerous state of indifference. Their inborn Teutonic discipline and their native courage enabled them to fight on stubbornly, and it was only toward the end of the campaign in France that their morale broke momentarily. Many who were so-called non-Nazis saw no hop for Germany other than through Hitler, and thought it better to go down fighting than to suffer a repetition of 1918. Moreover, it cannot be doubted that the governmental propaganda on V-weapons had a considerable effect in strenghtening morale in these early stages of the campaign. At the bottom of the scale came the foreigners who had either volunteered for or been pressed into the service of Germany. These men were dispersed throughout fixed garrisons and infantry divisions in order that adequate supervision could be exercised over them, but it was form their ranks almost exclusively that deserters came.
The abortive plot of the German military clique to assassinate Hitler, which astonished the world on 20 July, seemed to have little effect upon enemy morale. The details were little publicized by the German authorities, and the majority of the soldiers apparently regarded the facts as presented to them by the Allies as mere propaganda. Nor did the subsequent Himmler purge of non-Nazi elements in the army produce any marked change in the outlook of the rank and file.
The struggle which took place during this period of the establishment of the lodgement area, following the success of our initial assault, took the form of a hard slugging match on the British sector of the front, with the city of Caen as its focal point. Here the enemy concentrated the bulk of his strength, while the men of the U.S. First Army fought their way up the Cherbourg Peninsula to capture the port itself, subsequently regrouping and consolidating their position to the south in preparation for what was to prove the decisive breakthrough at the end of July.
By his anxiety to prevent the capture of Caen and the eastward extension of our beachhead, the enemy to some extent contributed to the accomplishment of our initial plan insofar as the capture of Cherbourg was concerned, and from D-plus-6 or D-plus-7 the battle developed in general as foreseen. This enemy anxiety in the east was manifested from D-plus-1 onward, following the failure of our attempt to seize the city of Caen in our first rush inland. It was vital for the enemy to deny us the Seine Basin: partly as it afforded the last natural barrier defending the V-1 and V-2 sites; partly because he needed the river ferries to bring over supplies and reinforcements to his divisions in Normandy; partly because he feared a thrust on Paris which would cut off all his forces to the west; partly because he foresaw a threat to Le Havre, which was an invaluable base for his naval craft operating against the approaches to the assault area; but perhaps most of all because he wished to avoid the possibility of a link-up between those Allied forces already ashore and those which he expected to land in the Pas-de-Calais.
For these reasons, therefore, he committed all his available armor and a considerable part of his infantry to the battle in the Caen sector, thus rendering easier the task of the Allied troops in the west but denying us access to the good tank and airfield country toward Falaise. His secondary aims, which crystallized as our strategy became clear to him, were to maintain a wedge threatening to divide the United States forces in the Cotentin from those in Calvados, to prevent the cutting of the Cherbourg Peninsula, and to block the way to Cherbourg itself. He fully appreciated the importance to us of securing this port--but his shortage of infantry and preoccupation with the Caen sector impaired his ability to defend it.
Our strategy, in the light of these German reactions, was to hit hard in the east in order to contain the
enemy main strength there while consolidating our position in the west. The resulting struggle around Caen, which seemed to cost so much blood for such small territorial gains, was thus an essential factor in insuring our ultimate success. The very tenacity of the defense there was sufficient proof of this. As I told the press correspondents at the end of August, every foot of ground the enemy lost at Caen was like losing ten miles anywhere else. At Caen we held him with our left while we delivered the blow toward Cherbourg with our right.
The enemy's tenacity in the east did not mean that the Allied forces in the west enjoyed a walk-over. The terrain through which they fought was overwhelmingly favorable to the defense. In the close "bocage" countryside, dotted with woods and orchards, and with its fields divided by high tree-topped embankments, each in itself a formidable antitank obstacle, armor was of little value, and the infantry had to wage a grim struggle from hedgerow to hedgerow and bank to bank, harassed by innumerable snipers and concealed machine-gun posts. For this type of warfare, experience gained by some of our units in their intensive pre-invasion exercises in the battle-training areas of southwest England proved valuable, as they had there bene taught to fight in country resembling that in which they found themselves at grips with the real enemy.
After the fall of Carentan on 12 June, marking the effective junction of the two American beachheads, the enemy became anxious concerning the drive of the 82d Airborne and 9th Infantry Divisions which, striking toward St-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, threatened to cut the neck of the peninsula and thus isolate Cherbourg. Although the enemy's 77th Infantry Division had been brought up from Brittany to assist, his available forces were not sufficient to cope with this thrust as well as with the more direct threat to Cherbourg leveled by our 4th and 90th Infantry Divisions which were pushing north on both sides of the Mountebourg road. The enemy concentrated, therefore, on counterattacks from the south in an unsuccessful endeavor to recapture Carentan and reestablish the "wedge," while deploying a considerable mass of artillery to bar the way north at Montebourg. The town eventually fell on 19 June, but meanwhile the enemy weakness in the center led to the evacuation of St-Sauveur on 16 June. Patrols of the
Establishment of the Lodgement Area
82d Airborne Division entered the town on that day, and on 17 June the 9th Infantry Division reached the west coast at Les-Moitiers-d'Allone and St-Lô-d'Ourville, north and south of Barneville. The enemy had formed two battle groups, one of which was to defend Cherbourg and the other to escape to the south, but when the peninsula was cut, part of the "escape" force was trapped. The forces isolated to the north included the bulk of two infantry divisions, parts of two others, and the naval and garrison personnel employed in Cherbourg itself. Once VII Corps had reached the west coast, the enemy was unable to reopen his corridor to the north.
The Montebourg defense having been broken by 19 June, the advance on Cherbourg continued. Valognes fell on the following day, and three infantry division (the 4th on the right, 79th in the center, and 9th on the left) under VII Corps closed in on the city. The German attempt to hold us at Montebourg, as personally ordered by Hitler, proved to be an error of judgment, since, when the line was forces, the units which retreated to Cherbourg were in no state of organization to maintain a protracted defense of the city. Had the withdrawal taken place earlier, Cherbourg might have been able to hold out as long as Brest did subsequently. The lesson had been learned by the time the fighting reached Brittany.
An attack on Cherbourg was launched on the afternoon of 22 June, following an 80-minute bombardment of the outer defenses, but the enemy at first fought back stoutly. By 25 June, however, our men were fighting in the streets while the thunder of the German demolitions in the port area reverberated from the surrounding hills. At 1500 hours on 26 June, the joint commanders, Maj. Gen. von Schlieben (land forces) and Rear Adm. Hennecke (naval forces), despite having previously exacted no-surrender pledges from their men, gave themselves up., The Arsenal held out until the next morning, and other fanatical groups which even then continued to resist had to be eliminated one by one. A certain number of the enemy still remained to be rounded up in the northwest corner of the peninsula, but on 1 July their commander, Colonel Keil, was captured with his staff and all resistance in the northern Cotentin came to an end.
It was the judgment of Rommel himself that, with Cherbourg in our hands, elimination of the beachhead was no longer possible. The admission was tantamount to a confession of failure of his own policy of relying on a concrete "wall" to frustrate an invasion on the very beaches. The next few weeks were to see the enemy making a frantic but unavailing effort, under von Rundstedt's supervision, to create the mobile striking force necessary for an elastic defense. But it was too late.
This inability of the enemy, after the initial success of our landings, to form an adequate reserve with which to regain the initiative and drive us into the sea became very apparent during the fighting in the British-Canadian sector. While the U.S. V. Corps pushed inland from its Calvados beachhead to the south and east of Caumont, a heavy, seesaw battle was fought by the Second Army in the Tilly area, with two panzer divisions initially providing the bulk of the opposition. As our pressure increased, reinforcements were introduced by the enemy from two other armored divisions, but these proved inadequate. On 28 June, the British 8 Corps established a bridgehead some 4,000 yards wide and 1,000 yards deep beyond the Odon River near Mondrainville. The greater part of eight armored divisions was now flung into the battle by the enemy in a fruitless attempt to halt the advance and to cut the Allied corridor north of the river. Despite the bad weather, which deprived us of full air support, the bridgehead was reinforced and stood firm. The cream of the SS panzer troops failed to dislodge us, not because they were lacking in fighting spirit, but because they were put into the battle piecemeal as soon as they could be brought to the scene. In his efforts to prevent a breakthrough, the enemy found it necessary to employ his forces in small groups of about 200 infantry supported by 15 to 20 tanks, a process which proved both ineffective and expensive. The British forces compelled the enemy to continue these tactics, until by 1 July any chance he may have had of mounting a large-scale blow at any one point had been completely destroyed. By their unceasing pressure they had never given him the respite necessary to withdraw and mass his armored resources.
Nevertheless, in the east we had been unable to break out toward the Seine, and the enemy's concentration of his main power in the Caen sector had prevented us from securing the ground in that area we so badly needed. Our plans were sufficiently flexible that we could take advantage of this enemy reaction by directing that the American Forces smash out of the lodgment area in the west while the British and Canadians kept the Germans occupied in the east.
Incessant pressure by the Second Army to contain
the enemy's strength was therefore continued by Field Marshal Montgomery during July. Simultaneously, the United States forces in the Cotentin proceeded to fight their way southward, alongside those which had landed east of the Vire, to win ground for mounting the attack which was to break through the German defenses at the end of the month. Field Marshal Montgomery's tactical handling of this situation was masterly. By this time, I was in no doubt as to the security of our beachhead from any immediate enemy threat, and the chief need was for elbow room in which to deploy our forces, the build-up of which had proceeded rapidly. We were already approaching the stage when the capacity of Cherbourg, the beaches, and the artificial ports would no longer be adequate to maintain us, and it was imperative that we should open up other ports, particularly those in Brittany, so that we might make our great attack before the enemy was able to obtain substantial equality in infantry, tanks, and artillery. The danger we had to meet was one of a position of stalemate along the whole front, when we might be forced to the defensive with only a slight depth of lodgment area behind us.
The indomitable offensive spirit animating all sections of the Allied forces prevented such a situation from arising; but it was hard going all along the front, and the first half of July was a wearing time for both sides. While the Second Army battled furiously against the enemy armored strength to the east, the First Army struggled forward on both sides of the Vire.
It had been my intention that General Bradley's forces should strike south as soon as Cherbourg had fallen, but the need to reorganize and regroup prevented a start being made until 3 July. Then the advance was a laborious business, owing to the close nature of the country and the atrocious weather. The enemy resisted fiercely along the whole front. In the VIII Corps sector violent fighting raged in the La-Haye-du-Puits area from 4 to 10 July, when the enemy's strongly organized positions were finally broken. VII Corps, attacking in terrain restricted by swampy land, suffered heavy losses for small gains along the Carentan-Périers highway. XIX Corps attacked across the Vire and established a bridgehead at St-Jean-de-Daye, then struck southward. The Germans, for the first time, transferred some armor from the eastern to the western sector, where the 2d SS Panzer Division had been the only armored unit in action. Panzer Lehr now joined it west of the Vire. On 11 July, Panzer Lehr's counterattack was smashed by the 9th and 30th Infantry Divisions, and on the same day the U.S. First Army opened a new drive east of the Vire and directly toward St-Lô. Promising gains were made, but the German 2d Parachute Corps rallied to prevent any breakthrough to St-Lô.
In view of the strength of this opposition to the First Army, which caused the advance to be disappointingly slow although General Bradley attacked unceasingly with everything he could bring into action, Field Marshal Montgomery had decided to redouble the efforts on the eastern flank and, as he said, to "put the wind up the enemy by seizing Caen" in preparation for establishing a bridgehead across the Orne. When this had been done, the Second Army could either drive south with its left flank on the Orne or else take over the Caumont sector in order to free more American troops for the thrust toward Brittany.
In spite of his reinforcement of the western part of the front, it was evident that the enemy continued to regard the defense of Caen as the matter of greatest importance, and 700 of his available 900 tanks were still located in this sector. They were now under command of Panzer Group West, which held the sector east of the Drˆme River facing the British Second Army. Following the establishment of the Odon Bridgehead, interest in the Second Army area was focused on a Canadian thrust toward Caen from the west which led to bitter resistance by the Germans at Carpiquet, where a three-day duel (4-6 July) for the possession of the airfield was fought between the Canadian 3 Infantry Division and the 12th SS Panzer Division.
On 8 July, Field Marshal Montgomery mounted his full-scale assault upon Caen. Applying the principles which he had first employed with such success in North Africa, he concentrated a maximum of striking power on one sector to achieve a breakthrough. The attack was preceded by an air bombardment of nearly 500 RAF "heavies," supplemented by effective naval fire from HMS Rodney, Roberts, and Belfast, and by land artillery. Although six hours elapsed between the air bombing and the ground attack, the result was to paralyze the enemy, who broke before our attack. The bombing having cut off their supplies, they ran out of ammunition and rations, and we occupied the whole of the town north and west of the Orne. Our advance was made difficult by the debris and cratering resulting form the bombing, and the enemy still held the Faubourg de Vaucelles across the river.
The entry into Caen was followed by a renewed thrust to extend the Odon bridgehead, and the capture
of Mahôt on 10 July threatened to trap the enemy in the triangle between the Orne and Odon. The threat produced vigorous enemy reaction again, the fighting for possession of Hill 112 being especially bitter. Once more the enemy was forced to bring back in to the battle the armored elements which he had been in process of replacing in the line by infantry and withdrawing to form a strong striking force in reserve. A few days later he made another attempt, withdrawing two SS panzer divisions, but the Second Army attack on Evrecy on 16-17 July forced him, not only to bring the armor hurriedly back, but to adopt the dangerous and uneconomical policy of dividing an SS panzer division into two battle groups. Only the 12th SS Panzer Division, weary from a long period of activity culminating in its defeat before Caen, now remained in reserve, and the big attack south and east of Caen which materialized on 18 July put an end to its relaxation.
This continuing failure by the enemy to form an armored reserve constitute the outstanding feature of the campaign during June and July: to it we owed the successful establishment of our lodgement area, safe from the threat of counterattacks which might have driven us back into the sea. Every time an attempt was made to replace armor in the line with a newly arrived infantry division, a fresh attack necessitated its hasty recommittal. These continual Allied jabs compelled the enemy to maintain his expensive policy of frantically "plugging the holes" to avert a breakthrough. So long as the pressure continued, and so long as the threat to the Pas-de-Calais proved effective in preventing the move of infantry reinforcements from there across the Seine, the enemy had no alternative but to stand on the defensive and see the Seventh Army and Panzer Group West slowly bleed to death. All that he could do was play for time, denying us ground by fighting hard for every defensive position.
Meanwhile, to the west, the steady pressure of the First Army forced the enemy gradually back through the close countryside, strewn with mines, toward the line of the Lessay-P&egrateriers-St-Lô road, where he had decided to make his main stand. His defense was weakest at the western extremity of this line, but in the St-Lˆ sector he showed a lively anxiety to hold this important road junction, the capture of which was essential to the success of our plan for a breakthrough. On 18 July, however, St-Lˆ fell to the 29th Division, and the 9th and 30th Infantry Division, west of St-Lô and across the Vire, had reached high ground suitable for launching the breakthrough attempt.
Thus, by 18 July, both the First and Second Armies had taken up the positions from which the breakthrough attacks were to be started. We now had the requisite room to maneuver, and our divisions in the field had been built up to 15 U.s. (including 3 armored) and 15 British and Canadian (including 4 armored), against which the enemy had 27, 8 of which were armored. On account of the losses which we had inflicted, however, the actual strength of the enemy was no more than the equivalent of six panzer or panzer-grenadier and ten full-strength infantry divisions. he had committed 540,000 men to battle and had lost at least 160,000 of them, killed wounded, and prisoners; of 1,200 tanks committed, 30 percent had been lost. His reinforcement prospects were not rosy, for only four of his panzer divisions in the west (outside the Pas-de-Calais) had not yet been committed to the battle, and these were not ready for combat. His six divisions in Brittany had already been bled to hep hold the line in Normandy, while in the southern half of France there were only 12 divisions left, of which but 7 or 8 were actually available to guard the coasts, thanks to the action of the Maquis inland. The southwestern part of the country had been practically evacuated of effective field units. Only the Fifteenth Army in the Pas-de-Calais, 19 division strong, was still left substantially intact, waiting for the expected further landing, which the commencement of the flying bomb attacks on 12 June may have made appear more likely than ever to the Germans.
Although the process had taken somewhat longer than we had anticipated, we had undeniably won the first and second rounds. In the first round we had gained our footing in France; in the second we had retained the initiative while expanding and consolidating our lodgement area and building up our strength in men and materials in readiness for the decisive blow to follow.
The enemy never succeeded in remedying the fatal situation into which Rommel's reliance on the Atlantic Wall had led him following the achievement of our landings. It was a coincidence that our old opponent of Africa should be struck down on the eve of the Second Army attack across the Orne, which was to be the precursor of the breakthrough in the west.
Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (2) * Next Chapter (4)