Exploiting the Breach
Strictly considered, Operation COBRA lasted only three days. By evening of 27 July, the situation had so evolved that General Bradley could conclude that a successful penetration of the enemy defenses had been achieved. He consequently issued oral instructions that were embodied in a field order distributed on the following day.1 While the 2d Armored Division (less CCA) completed its COBRA mission in action that continued through 30 July, the other units of the First Army carried out the new orders to exploit the COBRA results.
The forces east of the Vire River that were to have assignments in the exploitation had performed a subsidiary role in COBRA. Their activity, essentially an act of diversion, had influenced General Bradley's decision on how to direct the offensive growing out of the COBRA breakthrough.
The COBRA Diversion
The diversion east of the Vire River was predicated upon a desire to pin down enemy troops and prevent their dispatch westward across the river against the main forces in Operation COBRA. Exactly how this was to be accomplished General Bradley had left rather vague while awaiting developments in the main attack. Thus the commanders of the two corps east of the Vire, Generals Corlett and Gerow, had to plan their operations on the basis of several contingencies and in the face of a number of question marks.
General Corlett was to be prepared either to displace his XIX Corps to the west bank of the Vire and assume a portion of the VII Corps zone for a drive south or to remain east of the Vire for a drive south along that side of the river. Until Bradley decided which move was to be made, the XIX Corps was to give fire support to the VII Corps.2
The future of General Gerow's V Corps was even less definite. Though V Corps was to attack on 26 July, General Bradley had designated no objectives. Nor could General Gerow count on a firm commitment from the forces on his flanks. If XIX Corps, on his right, displaced to a new zone west of the Vire, Gerow would have to extend his responsibility westward to the river. If the British, who were to his left and whose intentions were uncertain, did not advance, V Corps, by attacking, might expose its own left flank. (See Map V.)
The V Corps front formed a curved line about fifteen miles long, with the
right flank on Hill 192, the center at Bérigny, and the left near Caumont. Early V Corps planning for COBRA had projected an advance of about ten miles across the entire front, but in final planning General Gerow directed instead a limited objective attack. Designed to move the corps forward about three miles, the attack was to tie down Germans east of the Vire; retain a measure of flexibility necessary for adjusting to the developing COBRA operation; and eliminate a German salient between St. Lô and Caumont that threatened American possession of St. Lô, denied desirable lateral routes of communications (particularly the St. Lô-Caumont highway), and lengthened the V Corps front.3 In the bocage east of the Vire River, irregular hills covered by hedgerowed fields formed broken ridge lines and raised barriers against an advance toward the south. In this terrain south of the St. Lô-Bérigny highway and west of the Bérigny-Caumont road, the Germans had excellent defensive positions on commanding ground. On the first ridge south of St. Lô--commonly called Hill 101--the Germans had kept XIX Corps from moving beyond St. Lô; in fact a strong counterreconnaissance screen had denied accurate knowledge of German strength and dispositions. On the second ridge--higher ground between the villages of Ste. Suzanne-sur-Vire and St. Jean-des-Baisants--the enemy had excellent observation and supplementary defensive positions.
The goal of General Gerow's limited objective attack was the St. Jean-des-Baisants ridge. Its capture would threaten to encircle the Germans on Hill 101 and thereby remove an obstacle hampering the XIX Corps. Once in possession of the St. Jean-des-Baisants ridge, General Gerow could either continue his attack to the south or take advantage of the terrain compartment and move southwest along the ridge line to Ste. Suzanne-sur-Vire and the Vire River. The latter maneuver would encircle the Germans on Hill 101.
General Gerow wanted to drive down the St. Jean-des-Baisants ridge. The maneuver he hoped to execute resembled, in miniature, the main COBRA operation west of the Vire. In the same way that the VII Corps veered to the Cotentin west coast, the V Corps would attack southwestward to the Vire River. Like the VIII Corps, the XIX Corps would act as a holding force. In the same manner that a successful VII Corps envelopment might block subsequent VIII Corps progress along the west coast of the Cotentin, a V Corps drive to the Vire would obstruct an immediate XIX Corps advance. If COBRA west of the Vire made possible an exploitation along the west bank of the Vire, the V Corps envelopment to the Vire would pinch out the XIX Corps and permit its displacement to make the main exploitation. The logic appeared unimpeachable, the opportunity tempting. The boundary between the XIX and the V Corps, tentatively drawn, ran southwest to the Vire River, indicating that the
XIX Corps was to be pinched out near Ste. Suzanne-sur-Vire.4
General Gerow controlled two infantry divisions. On the right he had an experienced division, the 2d, under General Robertson. The 5th Division on the left, commanded by Maj. Gen. S. LeRoy Irwin, had recently arrived in Normandy and had freed the 1st Division for the main COBRA attack. Together, the divisions on the V Corps front easily outnumbered the Germans they faced. Twenty battalions of artillery were in support, and two tank destroyer battalions were tied in with the corps fire direction center. The relative inactivity of the V Corps before the start of COBRA had enabled adequate stockpiling of ammunition.5
Several days before COBRA, in compliance with arrangements made by Generals Montgomery and Bradley, the boundary separating the V Corps and the Second British Army was moved to the west, giving the British responsibility for Caumont and reducing the 5th Division zone to regimental frontage. General Gerow planned to attack with the four regiments already on line, the three of the 2d Division and one of the 5th. Because the corps zone was divided into almost equal sectors by wooded and swampy lowland that separated the interior regiments, Gerow projected two simultaneous two-regiment efforts that would converge on the St. Jean-des- Baisants ridge. He expected to be in possession of the crest of the ridge in two days, after which he planned to send the 5th Division southwest to the Vire River, to St. Suzanne-sur-Vire.6
Shortly after dawn on 26 July, 192 American and 44 British guns fired a twenty-minute artillery preparation to open the attack east of the Vire River. This was the precursor of a heavy artillery effort that by the end of the first day was to consume half the ammunition allocated to the V Corps for a five-day period.7
Concerned that two weeks of relative inactivity in this sector had enabled the enemy to prepare extensive defensive positions in considerable depth, the 2d Division commander, General Robertson, had developed novel tactics for his attack. Tanks equipped with hedge-cutters and protected by time-fuzed artillery fire advanced buttoned up and without infantry support for several hundred yards to breach a few hedgerows in depth across the front. Achieving surprise and taking no losses from enemy fire, the tankers returned after twenty minutes to the line of departure to pick up infantry support. Together the tanks and infantry moved quickly through the gaps in the hedgerows before the Germans could re-establish their positions.8
With the help of these tactics, two of the 2d Division's three regiments made
notable advances. On the division left, the 9th Infantry used twenty-five .50-caliber machine guns previously emplaced on high ground to deliver flanking fire across the regimental front and advanced steadily for almost two miles. Against artillery, mortar, and slight small-arms fire, the regiment nearly reached the St. Lô-Caumont highway. Comprising one half of the corps right flank pincer force, the 23d Infantry gained almost a mile and reached a lateral country road. There, German artillery and high-velocity weapons placed flanking fire on the road and prevented a crossing in strength. The fire also made it difficult to evacuate casualties and bring up supplies. On the division right, where the 38th Infantry composed the other half of the pincer force, a comparable advance was made except on the extreme right. Stanch resistance and an increasingly exposed right flank forced a halt.9
Employing artillery fire to good advantage, the only regiment of the 5th Division to attack, the 2d Infantry, also made a quick initial gain of about a thousand yards. It was making a flanking approach to the St. Jean-des-Baisants ridge when intense and accurate German fire caused considerable disorganization. Nevertheless, by committing all three battalions judiciously, the regimental commander, Col. A. Worrell Roffe, was able to keep the attack going another 1,500 yards. Cutting the St. Lô-Caumont highway, the regiment made a total advance of two miles.10
By the end of the first day, the units of the V Corps had taken about 300 prisoners and advanced half way to the St. Jean-des-Baisants ridge. The drive cost nearly a thousand casualties, chiefly from artillery fire.11 The assault troops had broken through the crust of the German defenses, though they had been unable to exploit local penetrations because of the terrain, the wide frontages, and, in the case of the 2d Infantry Regiment, a certain amount of disorganization within the battalions.12 The V Corps clearly appeared to be accomplishing its main mission of containing some of the German forces and preventing them from bringing their strength to bear on the main development of COBRA west of the Vire River.
Resuming the attack on 27 July, V Corps advanced but did not reach its objective. The two regiments of the 2d Division, comprising the right arm of the corps pincer movement, gained about a thousand yards against resistance that was appreciably less determined
than on 26 July. The regiments on the left were hampered by continuing disorganization and nervousness among 5th Division units, still new in battle. Neither regiment advanced. At the end of the day, V Corps was still more than a mile short of the crest of the St. Jean-des-Baisants ridge. The real achievement was the contact made by the two interior regiments on the corps front. After bypassing the wooded swampy lowland that separated them, the regiments had turned inward and eliminated what had been the Bérigny salient.13
Denied the ridge he wanted, General Gerow changed his plans around midday, 27 July. Dividing the corps zone equally between the 2d and 5th Divisions, he alerted both to the possibility that either or both might be designated to make the attack southwestward to the Vire.14 The reapportionment of frontage acknowledged the strong resistance in terrain favorable for defense. It also was a precautionary measure predicated upon readying the corps to absorb another division, the 35th.
A possibility that the 35th Division soon might pass to V Corps had become strong on the morning of 27 July when indications developed that the XIX Corps might displace west of the Vire River. Since the 35th was the only division of XIX Corps actually in the line, it might be left behind when the corps moved.
Earlier, the XIX Corps had executed its COBRA mission by placing strong artillery fire on the ridges south of St. Lô. On 27 July the commander of the 35th Division, General Baade, came to the conclusion that the Germans were withdrawing primarily because of American gains west of the Vire. Deciding that an advance was in order, Baade secured the corps commander's permission to attack during the afternoon to secure Hill 101, the ridge immediately south of St. Lô. As events developed, the attack was well timed. The Germans had begun to withdraw during the morning, and the 35th Division took Hill 101 against no more than light resistance. Several Vire River bridge sites southwest of St. Lô fell in the process.15
On the evening of 27 July, a telephone call from First Army headquarters to General Corlett acknowledged the changing situation brought about by COBRA. General Bradley had decided to displace the XIX Corps west of the Vire River. As Gerow had anticipated, Bradley attached the 35th Division to the V Corps and extended Gerow's responsibility westward to the Vire.
COBRA had ended, and a new operation was about to begin.
The Post-COBRA Plan
In the COBRA plan, General Bradley had not tried to forecast how the operation might end. Instead, he was prepared to choose his course of action from the actual COBRA results. He could halt the offensive and consolidate his forces or continue his attack to exploit a breakthrough. By the evening of 27 July it
was apparent that the success of COBRA warranted a continuation of the attack, and Bradley decided to exploit his gains and broaden and extend his effort.
Specifically, the enemy withdrawal along the west coast of the Cotentin on 27 July--later judged the decisive consequence of COBRA--seemed to offer an opportunity to hasten the withdrawal and turn it into a rout.16 The fact that the opposition east of Coutances was so strong appeared particularly significant-- the forces there were obviously trying "to hold open the door of retreat for the LXXXIV Corps." Even the Luftwaffe put in an appearance--a total of thirty planes made eight daylight and sixteen night raids.17 The Germans had realized the danger of becoming isolated on the Cotentin west coast and had attempted to escape encirclement by withdrawing. "To say that . . . [we are] riding high tonight is putting it mildly," General Bradley wrote General Eisenhower. "Things on our front really look good."18
As judged by American intelligence officers--whose gratification over the COBRA results led to some optimistic exaggeration--the Germans in the Cotentin were in flight by 27 July. The only hope the Germans could have of stemming their retreat was to gain refuge behind the Sée River at Avranches. The "bits and pieces," the "shattered remnants," and the "battered portions" of the units in the Cotentin were hardly in shape to make a stand unless fresh troops came forward to reinforce them, and no fresh troops seemed available.
Thus the German course of action would probably be an attempt to erect a hasty defensive line between Avranches and the town of Vire, a line along the south bank of the Sée River and the high ground south of Villedieu-les-Poelës and St. Sever-Calvados. The possibility was also present that the Germans might counterattack from the east with two panzer divisions, but this hardly seemed likely at the moment. The significant conclusion was that "destruction of LXXXIV Corps is believed at hand, and the destruction of II Parachute Corps is an immediate possibility."19
To give the enemy "no time to regroup and reorganize his forces," General Bradley ordered his subordinate commanders to "maintain unrelenting pressure" on the Germans.20 His great reliance on the judgment of his corps commanders, as well as the fluidity of the situation, led him to formulate his instructions in rather general terms.21
There was no need for specifics. Two immediate tasks lay ahead. The German forces still north of Coutances had to be destroyed, those retreating to the south had to be pursued. Difficulties were apparent.
On the Cotentin west coast, where German disorganization seemed greatest, the VII and VIII Corps still had to complete their COBRA mission of eliminating the German forces trapped near Coutances. At the same time, the VII Corps, which had veered westward toward the coast, now had to turn south. Furthermore, VII Corps threatened to cause confusion by intermingling with VIII
Corps units. The VIII Corps, in addition to concern over the approach of the VII Corps toward its zone of advance, faced mines and wrecked vehicles, obstacles that were serious hindrances to a rapid advance in the restricted coastal road net. Time would be needed to regroup both corps and clear the roads, minimum prerequisites, it seemed, for effective exploitation south toward Avranches.
East of the Vire River, where only the V Corps remained, General Gerow's offensive was inevitably tied to British efforts on his left flank.
Only the XIX Corps received precise instructions from General Bradley. General Corlett was to displace the XIX Corps west of the Vire River and assume responsibility for what had been part of the VII Corps zone. Corlett was to "attack aggressively" in a drive south along the west bank of the Vire to a "goose egg" Bradley had drawn on a map. The "goose-egg" objective was about twenty miles south of le Mesnil-Herman and encompassed the For&ecurc;t de St. Sever and the town of Vire.
If XIX Corps could secure its objective, it would be into and partially through the highest terrain in Normandy--a hill mass extending from Avranches through Vire to Falaise-- and would be able to deny the Germans use of the ground as the basis of a new defensive line. Vire, an important road center less than twenty miles from the base of the Cotentin, would provide the First Army an excellent pivot for the wheeling movement projected a month earlier--the turn to the east that would allow other American forces to enter Brittany.
To take the step into Brittany, General Patton's Third Army headquarters was ready to become operational. When the Third Army became actively involved in operations on the Continent, the projected new U.S. command structure was to go into effect: General Bradley would take command of the 12th Army Group and Lt. Gen. Courtney H. Hodges, the Deputy Commander, First Army, would replace him as the First Army commander. It seemed as though the moment for the change might coincide with the end of the exploitation growing out of COBRA.
So that the U.S. forces could slip neatly into the new command organization at the conclusion of the exploitation, General Bradley made a special arrangement. He asked General Hodges "to keep close track of" the three corps on the left. He informally appointed General Patton a second deputy commander and assigned him the mission of supervising the activities of the VIII Corps on the right. The VIII Corps, scheduled to come under control of the Third Army, was to act as a bridge to link the Post-COBRA exploitation and the entrance of U.S. troops into Brittany. The Third Army was expected to be committed and pass into Brittany about 1 August.22
In the meantime, although COBRA and its consequences were an American responsibility, General Montgomery, as the Allied ground commander, was vitally concerned to promote progress on the American front. To create a diversion for COBRA, he had directed General Crerar to launch a holding attack on the Canadian front from Caen
toward Falaise. In compliance, the 2d Canadian Corps had attacked on the morning of 25 July, at the same time that COBRA jumped off. The Canadian attack met such resistance, and set off such strong German counterattacks east of the Orne by two panzer divisions, that Montgomery halted the attack at the end of the first day. Enemy strength in the Caen sector was obviously too great for anything less than an all-out offensive effort, which Montgomery was unwilling or unable to mount. On the other hand, the presence of formidable enemy forces near Caen made it necessary for the British to exercise caution. Montgomery still considered holding Caen, the pivot of the entire Allied front in Normandy, his principal task, and to that end he set in motion deception measures and air and artillery activity to keep the enemy off balance and prevent him from making a serious threat against Caen. It was this that had brought Kluge to the Caen front on 27 July at the height of the COBRA action.23
Despite his preoccupation with Caen, Montgomery endeavored to assist COBRA. Looking elsewhere along the eastern portion of the Allied front, he discovered that there seemed to be little if any German armor in the Caumont sector. He decided that an attack south from Caumont along the British-American boundary by the Second British Army would take advantage of German weakness and be of value. Not only would it help COBRA by preventing the Germans from dispatching forces westward across the Vire River against the Americans, it would also ameliorate the situation at Caen by drawing German armored reserves away from that sector. With the former intention his avowed purpose, Montgomery ordered General Dempsey to attack south from Caumont on 30 July in an operation code-named BLUECOAT.
Like GOODWQOOD, the attempted breakthrough effort south of Caen earlier in July, which had raised doubts concerning Montgomery's primary and secondary motives, BLUECOAT had its ambiguous aspects. If the original intention was to hold German forces in place, thus keeping them from crossing the Vire and interfering with COBRA, BLUECOAT came too late to influence the panzer division that Kluge was moving from the Caumont region toward the American front. Yet because of the American success, it seemed likely that the Germans would make a general withdrawal in the Cotentin and try to swing their entire left flank back to Avranches. To do so they needed a firmly held pivot point. A dominating hill complex culminating in Mont Pinçon--five to eight miles south of the Caumont-Villers-Bocage line--in the British zone of advance seemed suitable for this purpose. If the British denied the Germans the potential pivot point and got behind those German forces trying to swing west to face the Americans, the German withdrawal might disintegrate. This became the final purpose of BLUECOAT. With the object of moving from Caumont through the For&ecurc;t
l'Evêque to the town of Vire, the British were to attack on 30 July.24
Out of Operation COBRA thus emerged a plan of exploitation, a plan that sought to intensify German disorganization by relentless pressure on the American front and by a quick thrust south from Caumont on the British front. If the plan succeeded, the Allied turning movement toward the southeast would become a reality, and American troops would be able to enter Brittany. For the plan to succeed, the V and XIX Corps of the First Army and the right flank corps of the Second British Army first had to secure a firm pivot point at the town of Vire.
East of the Vire River
While the British were preparing to join the offensive east of the Vire, the V Corps resumed the attack. Assuming responsibility for all the American-held territory east of the Vire on 28 July by taking control of the 35th Division, General Gerow had free rein to push the V Corps to the south in the general direction of the town of Vire. Though General Bradley had assigned him no specific objectives, Bradley had asked him to keep the army headquarters informed on his intentions and progress. To his three divisions--the 2d, 5th, and 35th--General Gerow stated his mission as he understood it: "We must keep going to maintain contact, and not give the Boche a chance to dig in. See that all understand this."25
As the opposing II Parachute Corps pulled back in the hope of establishing defenses that could be tied in with the line the German units west of the Vire were trying to form, the V Corps on 28 July secured its COBRA objective, the St. Jean-des-Baisants ridge from Ste. Suzanne-sur-Vire to Vidouville. All three divisions advanced against light resistance and captured few prisoners. Although the enemy seemed much weaker as a result of the three-day attack and thus made prospects of a virtually unlimited advance seem possible for the V Corps, General Gerow was reluctant to initiate an unrestrained attack because of the terrain and his left flank. (See Map VI.)
The Souloeuvre-Vire river line, eleven miles beyond the St. Jean-des-Baisants ridge, appeared the obvious V Corps objective. Although the water alone constituted an obstacle to vehicular movement, the river runs through a ridge mass more than two miles in depth that presented an even more serious barrier to military advance. Steep-walled hills from 600 to 900 feet high would provide the Germans dominant observation, cover and concealment, fields of fire, and a good communications network. Hoping to secure the area before the Germans could organize it for defense, General Gerow nevertheless felt that the intervening terrain precluded a rapid advance. In the heart of the bocage country, the corps sector east of the Vire was a region of small irregular hills, small winding roads, and small hedgerowed fields. Combat there was sure to resemble the earlier battle of the hedgerows in the Cotentin.26
The second factor working against an unchecked V Corps advance was General Gerow's concern over his left flank. Until the British attacked south from Caumont on 30 July (prevented until then by difficulties of regrouping and deployment) and covered the flank, a headlong advance by V Corps would expose an increasingly vulnerable side to the enemy.
General Gerow's solution for his two problems was to set limits on his advance in order to keep tight control.27
The Germans facilitated the V Corps advance when the II Parachute Corps, with permission, pulled back again.28 Moving to the first limit of advance with very little difficulty, V Corps by noon 29 July held a line from Conde-sur-Vire to the British positions near Caumont. When the corps commander ordered the attack continued, troops pushed forward again for several thousand yards against sporadic resistance.29
Despite the absence of an organized German defensive line, the V Corps divisions did not have an easy time. The terrain inhibited rapid advance, and ambush lurked around every twist in the road. The bocage hills were populated by German rear-guard parties who used artillery, mortars, and small arms fire effectively. One American regimental commander, apparently near exhaustion, reported, "Things are not going very well," and said he "would like to be relieved of command." The division commander was not sympathetic. "I will relieve you when I get ready to do so," he snapped, but later sought to soothe him: "Do not get discouraged," he said, "this is hedgerow fighting. It is tough."30
Receiving word that the Germans were withdrawing all along the First Army front and learning that the British were planning to attack on the following day, General Gerow on 29 July ordered his division commanders into an all-out advance. Instead of merely preventing disengagement, the corps was to "drive strong and hard" in "a relentless pursuit."31 As translated by General Robertson, the troops were to "by-pass everything. Never mind these little pockets of resistance. . . . Let's get down and take a bath in the Vire."32 (Map VII )
The instructions came too late. Though army headquarters claimed that only some "tired old Austrians" were in opposition, the troops had moved into contact with a defensive line covering an important road net centering on Torigni-sur-Vire. As the 35th Division on 30 July tried to take Torigni and the 2d and 5th Division to occupy high ground east of the village, the Germans inflicted close to 1,000 casualties, halted the advance,
and dashed American hopes for an immediate pursuit.33
To breach the new line, the subordinate units of the V Corps made detailed attack plans, only to discover as they prepared to launch a co-ordinated offensive on the morning of 31 July that the Germans had disengaged.34 Kluge had authorized the II Parachute Corps to withdraw.35 In falling back, the Germans abandoned not only the Torigni road net but also terrain that was highly defensible. Only mines and sporadic harassing artillery fire opposed an uninterrupted advance. American troops cheerfully advanced across undefended ground, while their commanders chafed at the thought of the enemy slipping away undetected.36
Although all concerned pressed for speedy pursuit, the pace of the V Corps advance slowed during the afternoon of 31 July. Nearing the Souloeuvre-Vire water line, the corps encountered pockets of resistance and delaying forces with increasing frequency. The pursuit again threatened to come to a halt.
The boundaries delineating the corps zone of advance met near the town of Vire, f ourteen miles southwest of Torigni. If the British on the left and the XIX Corps on the right advanced as projected, the V Corps would be pinched out near Vire.37 Blocking the approach to the V Corps limit of advance was the east-west Vire-Souloeuvre river line and hill mass, seven miles north of Vire.
These factors generally and a conversation with General Bradley specifically governed General Gerow's desire to cross the hills and the water barriers quickly.38 Earlier on 31 July, Gerow had instructed his division commanders to move only as far as the river line. Later in the afternoon he ordered each division commander to get at least one battalion of each front-line regiment across the river before dark.
On the corps right and in its center, the 35th and 2d Divisions met such strong resistance on the approaches to the water line--and particularly near Tessy-sur-Vire--that it became obvious that they could not comply with instructions.39 On the other hand, the 5th Division on the left met relatively light resistance, indicating that a hard push might gain a bridgehead across the stream.
Unable to reach General Irwin, the 5th Division commander, personally, Gerow phoned one of Irwin's regimental commanders and told him to mount his infantry on tanks. They were to bypass resistance, use only good roads, and get to the water and across it in at least battalion
Tessy-sur-Vire. Road to Torigni crosses Vire River, left center.
strength. "In short," Gerow commanded, "hurry."40 Half an hour later he explained to Irwin, "I told you before to stop at the river--now I want you to change that." The 5th Division was to cover the more than six miles to the river line in record time.41
Less than an hour after Gerow forwarded these instructions, he learned that a British armored division had attacked to the southwest, entered the V Corps zone, and secured two bridges across the river. "Well now, I don't like British walking across our front [and] taking [our] objectives," General Gerow complained.42 But since the British had already secured a bridgehead he saw no reason why the Americans could not use it, specifically the 5th Division, for a quick drive across the remaining seven miles to the town of Vire.43
Unfortunately, the intermingling of British tanks and American infantrymen caused confusion. The opportunity for an immediate exploitation by either the British or the Americans was lost.44 One regiment of the 5th Division reached the north bank of the Souloeuvre River during the early morning hours of 1 August. There it remained throughout the day, out of contact much of the time with other division units.
By then, however, after having advanced more than seven miles in six days, the corps had reached the end of what had earlier promised to develop into an unlimited pursuit. On 1 August, as the 35th and 2d Divisions fought near Tessy-sur-Vire to get to the Souloeuvre-Vire line, the boundary separating the British and Americans was moved to the west, thereby narrowing the V Corps sector and pinching out the entire 5th Division.
Part of the reason for the boundary change was the success of the British attack south from Caumont. In compliance with Montgomery's endeavor to deny the Germans the pivot point near Mont Pinçon, General Dempsey had launched the 8 Corps in Operation BLUECOAT on 30 July. Following a bombardment by 700 heavy bombers and 500 medium and light bombers that dropped 2,200 tons of high explosive, the British attacked a sector that was lightly defended. Only the bombed and inexperienced 326th Infantry Division stood in the way. On the first day of the attack, the 11th British Armoured Division advanced six to eight miles to come abreast of the V Corps east of Torigni-sur-Vire. Operations on 31 July were hampered by the terrain: by the pronounced ridges running across the axis of advance; by the streams, which flowed in all directions and which in many cases were tank obstacles because of their width, depth, or marshy approaches; and by the tortuous roads, which were often banked by high hedges. But these difficulties were quickly overcome when the British discovered
that the For&ecurc;t l'Evêque, which was astride the boundary between the Seventh Army and Panzer Group West, had through oversight been left unoccupied by the Germans. A vital stretch of some 1,500 yards of country was theirs for the taking. Thrusting through the forest, the 11th Armoured Division quickly gained the south bank of the Souloeuvre River and by 1 August occupied high ground immediately east of the Vire.45
A Clash of Spearheads
While the V Corps and the British were driving toward Vire from the north and northeast, XIX Corps was thrusting toward Vire from the northwest. The evidence unearthed by COBRA indicated that the Germans had nothing to stop a XIX Corps advance along the west bank of the Vire, and General Bradley had acted on that premise. Unfortunately, Kluge had not been idle.
As early as the evening of 27 July, Kluge had begun to try to plug the spreading gap between LXXXIV and II Parachute Corps. He seized upon the 2d Panzer Division, then under Panzer Group West control. The panzer division had been relieved from frontline duty on 22 July by the 326th Infantry Division (which had come from the Pas-de-Calais), and the armored unit had moved into reserve southwest of Caen. Having had a few days of respite from battle, the 2d Panzer Division was to move westward and across the Vire River to launch a counterattack designed to close the gap.
Kluge at first thought of using the II Parachute Corps to direct the counterattack, but he quickly decided to insert a new corps between the II Parachute and the LXXXIV. The LVIII Panzer Corps headquarters was moving from the Fifteenth Army toward the Panzer Group West area, and Kluge considered employing the panzer corps in the Seventh Army center to handle the 2d Panzer Division counterthrust already planned to take place toward Marigny and St. Gilles.46 Kluge soon recognized, however, that the situation was changing too rapidly for him to await commitment of the LVIII Panzer Corps. Taking the XLVII Panzer Corps, which was not only more experienced but also closer to the Cotentin, and replacing it in the Panzer Group West front with the incoming LVIII, Kluge ordered the XLVII to take control of the 2d Panzer Division. By then the division was moving to an assembly area directly behind the 352d Division on the west bank of the Vire.47
Though Kluge was obviously concerned by the gap in the middle of the Seventh Army, he judged the Panzer Group West front still to be the more critical sector. The 2d Canadian Corps had launched an attack south of Caen toward Falaise on 25 July, and, although commitment of the 9th SS Panzer Division had soon checked the Canadians, continuing activity brought Kluge to that sector again two days later, on 27
July. While he was there, Hausser and Choltitz were struggling to maintain a semblance of order in the LXXXIV Corps sector. When Kluge returned to his headquarters that evening, he learned that the LXXXIV Corps sector was in turmoil. When he discovered, on the following morning, 28 July, that three divisions had to be considered lost in the Cotentin and that the gap was larger than had been earlier reported, Kluge realized that the 2d Panzer Division would not be enough. He needed more troops west of the Vire.
The 363d Division was en route to the Normandy front but was not immediately available for commitment. The 9th Panzer Division, released from the Nineteenth Army in southern France, would not be on hand for about ten days. With no alternative but to call upon Panzer Group West and thereby weaken the front south of Caen, Kluge took the 116th Panzer Division, a unit that had recently come from the Pas-de-Calais into Panzer Group West reserve. Together, the 2d and 116th Panzer Divisions, under the command of the XLVII Panzer Corps, were to attack north from Percy to close the gap between Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly and the Vire River.48
Starting on the night of 27 July, the 2d Panzer Division crossed the Vire River at Tessy-sur-Vire and assembled near Moyon, three miles northwest of Tessy. On 28 July the XLVII Panzer Corps assumed command not only of the 2d Panzer Division but also of the remnants of the 352d Division near Beaucoudray and the few remaining units of Panzer Lehr near Percy. The 116th Panzer Division, making a forced daylight march, was expected to be in position to attack northwest from Percy on the following afternoon, 29 July. On 29 July the XLVII Panzer Corps also took command of the 2d SS Panzer Division, deployed between the Sienne River and a point east of Percy.49
Meanwhile, Kluge was satisfied on 28 July that these arrangements were the best that could be made, particularly since Warlimont had promised to request permission from Hitler for the Seventh Army to withdraw to the Granville-Gavray-Percy-Tessy-sur-Vire-Caumont line.50 Kluge felt reasonably certain that he could re-establish a stable defensive line. The II Parachute Corps would remain essentially in place, making minor adjustments to conform to the new defenses but keeping the Panzer Group West left flank well covered. The XLVII Panzer Corps would plug the gap in the Seventh Army center. And the LXXXIV Corps, it still seemed at that date, would hold Coutances until strong forces withdrawing south had reestablished a firm anchor at Granville for the entire German defenses in Normandy. This was Kluge's hope. But first he had to reckon with the XIX U.S. Corps.
General Corlett on 28 July was also displacing troops west of the Vire River. He had hoped to take with him his two experienced divisions, the 35th and 29th,
leaving the untested 28th Division (Maj. Gen. Lloyd D. Brown) on a relatively static front at St. Lô. But the need for the 35th Division to advance south of St. Lô on 27 July to maintain pressure on the withdrawing Germans changed Corlett's plans. The 35th Division attack nevertheless provided an assist by securing an additional bridge over the Vire southeast of St. Lô, thereby facilitating the movement of the 28th and 29th Divisions into the new corps zone.51
At noon on 28 July, while the displacement was being carried out, General Corlett assumed responsibility for the units already engaged in his new zone--the 30th Division and CCA of the 2d Armored Division, the latter reinforced by the 4th Division's 22d Infantry, plus the 113th Cavalry Group. (See Map VI.)
The XIX Corps mission of driving south about twenty miles from le Mesnil-Herman to the town of Vire in what was hoped would be a virtually uncontested pursuit contrasted with the previous aim of the forces already engaged on the west bank of the Vire River. While under VII Corps and engaged in Operation COBRA, the 30th Division and the reinforced CCA of the 2d Armored Division had driven south to wall off the Vire River against possible German attacks launched from the east. By noon, 28 July, they were completing their COBRA assignments. The 30th Division, after securing three Vire River bridges south of St. Lô, was moving against slight resistance toward a natural stopping place, a stream south of the villages of Moyon and Troisgots, where General Hobbs hoped to "get a little breather."52 CCA was in possession of its primary COBRA objective, le Mesnil-Herman, and was probing toward the towns of Villebaudon and Tessy-sur-Vire.
Less concerned with blocking a possible Germanmove across the Vire than with launching a rapid advance to the south, General Corlett believed a quick movement to his objective to be possible. Estimates indicated that the XIX Corps faced fewer than 3,000 German combat effectives--disorganized and battered units supported by only four artillery battalions and scattered batteries of self-propelled guns. Without prepared positions and lacking reserves, the Germans could make a stand at only two places, on high ground south of Tessy-sur-Vire and on commanding terrain near Vire.53
One speck blemished this optimistic view. While reconnoitering in force from le Mesnil-Herman toward Villebaudon and Tessy-sur-Vire on 27 July, task forces of CCA had encountered increasing resistance that denied advance of more than two miles in each direction.54 It became apparent that part of the 2d Panzer Division, believed moving westward, was already west of the Vire River. Although Allied planes were harassing the enemy's approach, the panzer division was judged capable of getting at least a motorized infantry regiment and about twenty tanks in front of the XIX Corps by the morning of 28 July.55
So long as this estimate remained only a pessimistic possibility, General Corlett saw no reason why he could not advance beyond Tessy-sur-Vire and block off this excellent crossing site before the 2d Panzer Division and other German units could offer serious resistance. Thus he designated the high ground south of Tessy--along the Percy-Pontfarcy line-as the initial corps objective. With this potential enemy defensive line neutralized and with the 28th and 29th Divisions in place for the attack, he would drive to the town of Vire.56
To seize the Percy--Pontfarcy line, General Corlett directed General Hobbs to take Tessy-sur-Vire with the 30th Division and block the river crossing sites. No doubt recalling the confusion that had occurred in the Taute and Vire bridgehead area when the 30th Division and a different combat command had intermingled, the corps commander halted movement of the 2d Armored Division's CCA toward Tessy-sur-Vire.57 Instead, the reinforced CCA was to concentrate on the right of the corps zone and attack south through Villebaudon to Percy. Counting on the mobility of the armored force and on continuing enemy disorganization, Corlett instructed the armored commander, General Rose, to move from Percy eastward to the Vire River. This would serve to encircle Tessy from the west and isolate the town from the south. Then the 29th Division, and later the 28th, would attack to the south.58
As events developed, these arrange ments were too late, for on 28 July the 2d Panzer Division was assembling west of the Vire River on a small plateau around Tessy-sur-Vire. The panzer troops gathered behind an east-west tributary of the Vire River--the stream running south of Moyon and Troisgots--and in the area immediately northwest of Tessy for an attack to the northwest. To protect the assembly of the 2d Panzer Division, Kluge had instructed Hausser to have the II Parachute Corps, which still straddled the Vire River, establish a strong defensive line from Moyon eastward through Conde-sur-Vire and Bieville to Caumont, where it was to tie in with the LVIII Panzer Corps.59 Although the line east of the Vire--from Conde-sur-Vire through Bieville--had successfully delayed the V Corps north of Torigni-sur-Vire, the slashing COBRA attack of the 30th Division and CCA had invalidated positions along that line west of the Vire. CCA had already outflanked the line on the west by reaching Villebaudon on 28 July, and the 30th Division was approaching Troisgots.
The remnants of the352d Division, reinforced by elements of the 2d Panzer Division as they arrived, got set to hold the Moyon-Troisgots line. As troops of the 30th Division descended a naked slope during the afternoon of 28 July and moved toward the stream and a long incline behind it, they came under intense fire. The configuration of the terrain exposed the attackers and gave the defenders defilade. American counterbattery missions seemed to have no effect on enemy fire, and from the
ridge just south of the Moyon-Troisgots stream German machine guns, tanks, self-propelled guns, and artillery denied advance.60
Although General Hobbs committed his reserve regiment on the following day, 29 July, the forces failed to move forward. Certain internal difficulties were apparent: the troops were exhausted, a shortage of telephone wire hampered communications, and fighter-bombers in close support inadvertently strafed and bombed several 30th Division units. But the principal reason why the 30th Division did not take Troisgots was the presence of the fresh and strong 2d Panzer Division defending advantageous terrain. Two co-ordinated attacks against Troisgots--the bastion of the defensive line--by all three regiments of the 30th Division abreast on 30 July and artillery fire exceeding thrice the amount usually expended still failed to propel the division beyond the line of departure. Enemy shells knocked out six of nineteen tanks supporting one regiment.61
By this time General Corlett had changed the division objective from Tessy-sur-Vire to Troisgots.62 Not only did Tessy seem completely out of reach for the moment, even Troisgots appeared unattainable. The 30th Division was far from getting the "little breather" General Hobbs had hoped for.
For all the indications of failure, the 30th Division to a great extent had prevented the 2d Panzer Division from launching its own counterattack. Hausser had helped the Americans too. Having become convinced that the XLVII Panzer Corps attack had failed even before it got started, Hausser ordered the corps to assume defensive positions along a broad front between the Vire River and Gavray. Kluge countermanded the order at once, but the resulting delay as well as inevitable confusion on the staff levels harmed the offensive purpose.
Some credit for balking the 2d Panzer Division's offensive intentions also belonged to the 2d Armored Division's CCA, which had made its weight felt on the right of the 30th Division. By noon of 28 July, when General Corlett assumed control, General Rose's combat command had already secured Villebaudon. An armored column conducting a reconnaissance in force that morning had destroyed six German armored vehicles and a Mark IV tank and had overrun about fifty soldiers to take the village. Another column reconnoitering simultaneously toward Tessy-sur-Vire, in contrast, met strong armored forces obviously belonging to the 2d Panzer Division and returned to the vicinity of le Mesnil-Herman. Ordered
to discontinue the thrust toward Tessy, directed instead to attack along the axis from le Mesnil-Herman through Villebaudon to Percy, and strengthened by attachment of the 113th Cavalry Group, General Rose immediately reinforced his troops in Villebaudon with the cavalry group and the 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion.63
Although the route south from le Mesnil-Herman to Percy seemed clear of large German contingents, the arrival of the 2d Panzer Division in the Tessy-sur-Vire region threatened the CCA line of communications. The roads leading west from Tessy were excellent for supporting German armored thrusts toward Villebaudon and Percy. To prevent the panzer troops from cutting the north-south le Mesnil-Herman-VillebaudonPercy road, General Rose tried to erect a barrier along his eastern boundary. He had divided CCA into three task forces, each consisting of a company of the 22d Infantry, a medium tank company of the 66th Armored Regiment, a platoon of light tanks, and supporting units. Since one task force was already in Villebaudon, he sent the other two south and southeast from le Mesnil-Herman toward Moyon, giving them the eventual objective of cutting the east-west Villebaudon-Tessy highway and thereby providing flank protection for the main attack to Percy.
The task force that attacked southeast from le Mesnil-Herman on the afternoon of 28 July drove through le Mesnil-Opac and destroyed five Mark IV tanks and four antitank guns without loss. However, increasingly heavy opposition from roving tanks, infiltrating infantrymen, antitank and dual-purpose antiaircraft guns, mortars, and artillery forced the column to return to le Mesnil-Herman. The task force attacking to the south reached the village of Moyon but, unable to go farther, also returned to le Mesnil-Herman.
Meanwhile, the Germans threatened to cut the main road between le Mesnil-Herman and Villebaudon and isolate the CCA spearhead. Three enemy tanks actually moved westward from Moyon and seized a crossroads near la Denisière. Reversing one battery to fire north from Villebaudon toward la Denisière at very short range, the 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion soon drove the three tanks away. Unable to cut the road physically, the Germans attempted to seal off Villebaudon by interdictory artillery fire along the highway. The shelling of the la Denisière intersection remained heavy, but American ammunition and supply vehicles, forced to speed through the crossroads at irregular intervals, managed for the most part to evade damage.
On 29 July General Rose sent both task forces from le Mesnil-Herman to take the village of Moyon. Though the attempt failed, the CCA task force in Villebaudon moved south to Percy against light resistance. Percy proved untenable. The armored force withdrew to hills north of the town and awaited reinforcement. Threatening to block reinforcement, the Germans again cut the axis of communication behind the advance units near Percy. As enemy artillery interdicted the le Mesnil-Herman-Percy highway and as enemy tanks dueled with American tank destroyers, small German detachments infiltrated
across the route and set up hasty roadblocks.
The arrival of the 29th Division, while not ameliorating the situation at once, gave hope of improvement in the near future. Two of General Gerhardt's regiments--the 116th and 175th--moved into the line near Moyon and Percy to relieve the CCA task forces, which then assembled near le Mesnil-Herman. Directed to advance through Villebaudon and Percy, the third regiment, the 115th Infantry, was stopped by the German roadblocks on the highway. Although General Corlett that evening optimistically ordered an advance to Vire, the corps objective, it was obvious that he first had to eliminate the enemy bridgehead at Tessy-sur-Vire.64
To eliminate the bridgehead, General Corlett decided to shorten CCA's planned envelopment of Tessy. Instead of moving eastward from Percy, General Rose was to strike east from Villebaudon. If successful, the combat command might outflank the enemy's Moyon-Troisgots line. The 29th Division would then be able to proceed through Villebaudon and Percy and launch the drive toward Vire.
On the morning of 30 July, a reinforced tank battalion and an infantry company of CCA moved from le Mesnil-Herman through Villebaudon, turned east toward Tessy-sur-Vire, and immediately met firm opposition. A fire fight involving forty American tanks as well as infantry and antitank guns lasted all day. The 2d Panzer Division was tied down in the Tessy region, but the 116th Panzer Division had appeared on the scene. After being harassed and delayed by Allied airplanes during its march across the Vire River, the 116th finally jumped off on the morning of 30 July. At once it became bogged down in a struggle for the hills around Percy, Villebaudon, and Beaucoudray. (See Map VII.)
For the Americans, the problem of taking Tessy vanished under the more pressing need to hold Villebaudon. While the 28th Division's 109th Infantry remained north of le Mesnil-Herman to constitute the corps reserve, the other two regiments of the division--the 110th and 112th--moved south of le Mesnil-Herman to back up the defense of Villebaudon. The 116th and 175th Regiments of the 29th Division exerted pressure meanwhile against Moyon and Percy, and the 30th Division placed pressure against Troisgots. As a result of this corps-wide effort and of assistance from fighter-bombers that struck Tessy-sur-Vire several times during the day, CCA retained possession of Villebaudon.65 Meanwhile, the 29th Division's 115th Infantry, which had been blocked south of Villebaudon, finally reached the outskirts of Percy.
The 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion played a significant part in the battle on 30 July. Ordered to move from Villebaudon to Percy that morning, the battalion had formed in a march column with the heads of the battery columns on the main road leading south. Before the move started, news of the counterattack prompted the unit to hold in place and assume firing positions. Although scattered small arms fire struck near the guns for an hour around noon,
the artillerymen accepted and fulfilled all fire missions. They marked enemy attack concentrations with red smoke to lead fighter-bombers to lucrative targets. They also engaged enemy tanks at ranges of less than 2,000 yards. Finally, when German fire became too intense, they withdrew to new positions north of Villebaudon. There the 18th and the 65th Field Artillery Battalions were attached to the 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, which also assumed operational control of the 44th Field Artillery Battalion through its fire direction center. Controlling the fires of four battalions of 105-mm. howitzers, the 14th also co-ordinated missions for the XIX Corps Artillery, which sent a liaison officer to the battalion for this purpose.66 At the end of 30 July, the XIX Corps still was seriously engaged in the Percy-Tessy-sur-Vire area. From the high ground between Percy and Tessy, the Germans shelled the American units effectively and interdicted the roads in the Villebaudon area at will.67 Still trying to eliminate the German bridgehead at Tessy, General Corlett ordered the attack to resume on 31 July, but with a modification. From positions forming an arc from Moyon through Villebaudon to Percy, all three regiments of the 29th Division--the 116th on the left (north), the 175th in the center, and the 115th on the right (the 115th after relief near Percy by the 28th Division's 110th Infantry)--were to attack eastward toward Tessy and support another at tempt by CCA to destroy the bridgehead. While this attack was in progress, the 28th Division was to move south through Villebaudon to Percy to get into position for a drive south to Vire.
About noon, 31 July, two battalions-one from the 66th Armored Regiment and the other from the attached 22d Infantry--advanced eastward from Villebaudon toward Tessy-sur-Vire to spearhead a 29th Division supporting attack. Halfway to Tessy, the armored troops encountered several enemy tanks in a wood on the far side of a ravine. Unable to find a crossing site over the ravine and receiving heavy artillery fire, they halted and took cover while fighter-bombers attempted without success to dislodge the Germans. The troops of the 29th Division, like the spearhead, were unsuccessful in achieving more than limited advances.68
Meanwhile the 28th Division was moving south toward Percy and on that day assumed responsibility for its zone. The move was far from successful, even though the division was moving through what was essentially a rear area.69 Displaying the usual symptoms of a unit new to combat, the troops of the 28th Division would need several days to overcome a natural hesitancy to advance under fire, to become accustomed to maneuvering in unfamiliar terrain, and to learn the techniques of advancing through hedgerow country.70
A significant change in the situation occurred on 31 July in the 30th Division sector, where General Hobbs was trying for the fourth day to take Troisgots. For the attack on 31 July, Hobbs placed his entire attached tank battalion at the disposal of the 119th Infantry, which was to make the main effort in the center of the division front. The gesture was more impressive in theory than in fact since losses had reduced the tank battalion to thirty-four lights and mediums, of which only thirteen Shermans actually were available for front-line duty.71 Accompanied by these tanks, the 119th Infantry was to press in on Troisgots from three sides as the other regiments supported.
An infantry battalion and a few supporting tanks managed to get into Troisgots during the afternoon and destroy by tank fire and bazooka shells several enemy tanks and self-propelled guns, the heart of the German defense. Success was in a large measure due to 1st Lt. Harry F. Hansen of the 743d Tank Battalion, who dismounted from his tank and led two infantrymen with bazookas to positions from which to fire on three hostile tanks. Two burst into flame upon direct hits, the third retired.72 By evening the regiment was mopping up the village. The Germans had given way most reluctantly. The fall of Troisgots had been "no collapse."73
Capture of Troisgots occurred as news came to the Germans that Americans in the Cotentin were threatening Granville and even Avranches (indeed, had perhaps taken them) and that British and Americans were advancing toward the town of Vire. Withdrawal became imperative. Kluge's authorization for the Seventh Army to pull back to a line that would still protect Granville, Tessy-sur-Vire, and Vire seemed unrealistic.74 The forces between Percy and Tessy began to withdraw, shifting slightly westward toward Villedieu and Gavray.
Suspecting the imminent collapse of the German positions, General Corlett ordered his subordinate commanders to maintain vigorous patrolling during the night to maintain contact with the enemy. "Watch . . . and see that he does not pull out," Corlett warned.75 If a withdrawal was discovered, the units were to pursue. Since Corlett felt that the Germans would continue to hold Tessy-sur-Vire to cover their withdrawal, he planned still another attack for 1 August. Attaching CCA to the 29th Division, he ordered General Gerhardt to drive eastward again from Villebaudon to Tessy-sur-Vire while the 30th Division pressed against Tessy from the north. The 28th Division was to move south through Percy and attack toward Vire.76
On the morning of 1 August, CCA spearheaded the 29th Division attack by again moving toward Tessy-sur-Vire with an armored battalion on each side of the highway. A unique armored point of five vehicles moved ahead of the force. A light tank, acting as a decoy,
advanced along the road; two medium tanks, one hundred yards ahead of the light tank, moved along the sides of the road to flush and engage enemy tanks; and two tank destroyers, two hundred yards behind the light tank, advanced along the sides of the road, alert to reinforce the medium tanks by quick fire.
Taking advantage of ground mist, the men and vehicles of CCA crossed the ravine that had held up progress on the previous day and overran and destroyed a column of German vehicles. Although three American tanks entered the outskirts of Tessy during the morning, the Germans drove the crewmen out after all three tanks developed mechanical failures.
Earlier on 1 August General Hobbs had instructed the 120th Infantry to send a token force to participate in the capture of Tessy-sur-Vire. "We were suddenly ordered . . . to take off for Tessy," explained the commander of the rifle company selected for the mission, "so we took off."77 Without an artillery forward observer, the company moved cross-country to within a mile of the town before an enemy machine gun and several mortars took the troops under fire. Knocking out the machine gun with grenades, the infantrymen infiltrated into the edge of Tessy. Having understood that Tessy had already been secured by CCA and that he was merely to set up roadblocks there, the company commander was disconcerted when enemy forces appeared and drove his men out helter-skelter.
CCA mounted a second attack that afternoon and penetrated Tessy. Men of the 22d Infantry cleared the center of the town and crossed the river to establish outposts. In the meantime, several CCA tanks rumbling through the northern outskirts of Tessy restored spirit to the company of the 30th Division that had earlier been driven out. "The tanks could have had wooden guns," said one of the men. Their presence alone was invigorating. Together, infantrymen and tankers cleared the northern outskirts.78
Getting into Tessy did not mean that the town was secure. German artillery shells continued to fall into the streets until the 35th Division of the V Corps across the river took high ground east of the town on the following day, 2 August. At that time, the 30th Division passed into XIX Corps reserve and CCA reverted to 2d Armored Division control.
The XIX Corps was still far from its post-COBRA objective. But it had contributed handsomely to the final success growing out of COBRA. By blocking for five days the German attempt to reestablish a defensive line across the Cotentin, XIX Corps had enabled troops on the First Army right to make a spectacular end run.
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