The Offensive Continued
By the end of the first week in July events on the battlefield of Normandy had modified German policies to some extent. Hitler, who had depended on the Air Force and the Navy to regain for the German ground forces a favorable balance of build-up and mobility, realized that his reliance on Goering and Doenitz had been misplaced. He turned to his minister of production, Albert Speer, for increased industrial output of war matériel. With more heavy tanks and guns in the field, and with new weapons mass manufactured and distributed--jet-propelled planes, for example, and long-distance snorkel submarines--Hitler felt he might yet smash the Allied beachhead. Still hopeful, he counted on the Army in the west to stall for time, denying the Allies maneuver room and major ports, until eventually the new weapons might be brought to bear. Until then, German commanders in the west were to improve their defenses, disengage their armor from the front and replace tanks with infantry, and mount limited objective attacks and night operations to keep the Allies off balance. Planning for offensive warfare was temporarily discontinued.1
The Battle for Caen
In the first week of July the Allies had command of the air, their ground build-up was proceeding favorably, and enemy reinforcements moving toward the front were being delayed. General Eisenhower nevertheless was highly conscious of the unfulfilled need for greater maneuver room, additional ports and airfield sites, and open country "where our present superiority can be used." Troubled by the "slow and laborious" advance of the First Army in the Cotentin--due, he realized, to terrain and weather conditions as much as to enemy resistance--he was worried more by the shallowness of the British sector, where one of the invasion beaches, a reception point for supplies and personnel coming from England, was still under enemy fire. He questioned whether General Montgomery, in his professed zeal to attract enemy forces to his front and away from the American sector, was making sufficient effort to expand the British part of the beachhead. "We must use all possible energy in a determined effort," General Eisenhower wrote Montgomery, "to prevent a stalemate" and to insure against "fighting a major defensive battle with the slight depth we now have" on the Continent.2
"I am, myself, quite happy about the situation," General Montgomery replied. He had maintained Allied initiative, prevented reverses, and set into motion "a very definite plan." Three needs determined Montgomery's operations--the Breton ports, space for maneuver, and destruction of German forces. "Of one thing you can be quite sure," General Montgomery promised; "there will be no stalemate."3
While the Americans were struggling in the Cotentin, the British had mounted another effort against Caen. Because in earlier attempts to take the city the British had been unable to mass sufficient artillery to destroy the strong defenses, the planners discussed the use of heavy bombers to deliver preparatory fire for the ground action. In February and March 1944 heavy bombers had launched attacks at Cassino in Italy to assist ground troops, but without notable success, and during June heavy bombers had rendered occasional close support in France by attacking targets that the chief of the RAF Bomber Command sarcastically termed of "immediate and fleeting importance."4 But there had been no large-scale use of heavy bombers in direct support of the ground troops.
Use of bombers in a direct support role hinged upon the answer to two major questions: Was it justifiable to divert heavy bombers from their main strategic role? Could the planes bomb close enough to the forward line to facilitate the ground advance without unduly exposing the troops to the hazards of accidental bomb spillage and inaccurate aim? General Eisenhower resolved the first question. He favored using strategic air for tactical ends whenever those ends were important and profitable. Caen, he believed, was important and profitable.5 Ground and air planning staffs worked out a solution to the second question. A bomb line 6,000 yards (about three and a half miles) ahead of the leading units, they decided, would minimize the danger to friendly ground troops.
For the July attack on Caen, heavy bombers were to saturate a rectangular target, 4,000 by 1,500 yards, on the northern outskirts of the city. The purpose was to destroy both infantry and artillery positions, cut off forward troops from supply, demoralize enemy soldiers in and out of the target zone, and, finally, boost British ground force morale. Field artillery was to cover the gap between the British line and the air target with normal preparation fires. (Map 6)
Canadian troops initiated the offensive on 4 July with a preliminary attack designed to secure the western exits of Caen. Three days later, at 2150 on 7 July, 460 planes of the RAF Bomber Command dropped 2,300 tons of high explosive bombs in forty minutes. Six hours later, just before dawn on 8 July, three British and Canadian divisions attacked directly toward the objective with three armored brigades in immediate support and a fourth in reserve. Though the British found many Germans stunned, some units cut off from ammunition and gasoline supplies, and
Map 6. Battle for Caen, 8-9 July 1944
one regiment virtually decimated, resistance did not collapse, the fighting was bitter, casualties heavy. Widespread debris and tremendous craters further obstructed a rapid ground advance.6
The full force of the air bombardment had struck the 16th Luftwaffe Field Division, recently arrived in Normandy from the Pas-de-Calais to replace an armored division in the Panzer Group West line. With one regiment of the 16th destroyed and quickly overrun, Eberbach committed without result the powerful 21st Panzer Division, which had just been moved out of the line and into reserve. The attack of the 21st "did not have much point," according to Rommel, "because of the strong enemy artillery fire." The air bombardment had also fallen on the excellent 12th SS Panzer Division, still not relieved from front-line defensive duty as had been hoped. Though some strongpoints in this unit's main line of resistance held until burned out by
flame-throwing British tanks, the division eventually was forced to give way. On the evening of 8 July, Rommel and Eberbach decided to prepare to evacuate Caen. They began by directing that all heavy weapons be moved across the Orne River, which flows through the city.7
The Luftwaffe field division lost 75 percent of its infantrymen and all of its battalion commanders in those units in contact with the British. No longer able to fight as an independent unit, the division was attached to the 21st Panzer Division. The 12th SS Panzer Division lost twenty medium tanks, several 88-mm. pieces, all its antitank guns, and a high percentage of its troops. All together, Rommel estimated losses as the equivalent of four battalions of men. Eberbach moved the 1st SS Panzer Division to positions southeast of Caen to forestall a British breakthrough, but Kluge, by refusing to permit its commitment, accepted the eventual loss of Caen.8
On the morning of 9 July British and Canadian troops entered Caen from the flanks and reached the Orne River. The bridges across the river had been destroyed or were blocked by rubble, and there the troops halted.9
The Allied ground commander, General Montgomery, had not moved much closer toward the Breton ports, he had not gained much maneuver space, nor had he captured all of Caen. But he had inflicted heavy losses on the Germans. With Panzer Lehr moving to the Seventh Army sector to counter the breakthrough threatened by American troops between the Taute and the Vire, Panzer Group West, after meeting the British attack, was in difficult straits.
On 10 July Montgomery directed the British Second Army to drive south between Caumont and Caen in order to broaden the beachhead and open lateral routes of communication. Subsequently, the army was also to advance across the Orne River at Caen toward Falaise, if it could do so "without undue losses," in order to position its armor for a drive in strength farther south or toward the Seine. The First U.S. Army was to continue its offensive to the south.10
Vitally interested in maneuver room and the Breton ports, General Bradley had been attempting to move out of the Cotentin swamps to dry land along the Coutances-Caumont line, where he could mount an attack toward Brittany. But after nearly a week of bitter fighting, both the VIII and the VII Corps on the army right seemed to be halted, and the XIX Corps had been unable to develop and extend its bridgehead between the Taute and the Vire. Since the Germans were defending with unexpected determination, making excellent use of the terrain, and inflicting considerable losses, prospects of continuing a frontal attack along the well-defined corridors leading through the Cotentin
British Troops clearing away rubble in Caen, 9 July.
marshes appeared to assure only a repetition of painful progress at prohibitive cost. Getting to the first objective, the Coutances-Caumont line, would so weaken the army that a delay would have to preface a subsequent effort to get to Brittany.
Searching for a different way to gain the Coutances-Caumont line, General Bradley began to consider that a powerful attack on a very narrow front might dissolve the hedgerow stalemate. Yet before he could mass forces on a narrow front, he had to get at least partially out of the Cotentin lowlands. He decided that ground near the Lessay-St. Lô-Caumont highway might serve his purposes. A compromise objective, it would perhaps give sufficient dry land for the attack to the Coutances-Caumont line.
While General Bradley was bringing his idea to maturity, the slow and painful advance through the hedgerows continued.11
After five days of attack in July, General
Middleton's VIII Corps had moved only to the high ground near la Haye-du-Puits. General Wyche's 79th Division, on the right, occupied most of the Montgardon ridge; General Ridgway's 82d Airborne Division had taken the Poterie ridge in the corps center; and General Landrum's 90th Division, on the left, held precarious positions on the northeast portion of Mont Castre. The infantry divisions were to have met just south of la Haye-du-Puits to pinch out the airborne troops and allow them to return to England, but by the evening of 7 July the divisions on the flanks were still more than three miles apart. (Map II) They had each sustained casualties of close to 15 percent of original strength. To give the attack impetus, General Middleton committed the newly arrived 8th Division.
To make room for the new unit, General Middleton redrew the division boundaries. He restricted the 79th Division to a narrow sector along the west coast of the Cotentin, where it was to perform a clearing mission as far south as the Ay River estuary. He reoriented the 90th Division from a south by southwest direction to an axis of advance generally south by southeast; at the Sèves River near Périers the 90th was to be pinched out on its left by the VII Corps in the Carentan--Périers isthmus and on its right by the 8th Division. To the fresh troops of the 8th Division, General Middleton gave the mission of making the main effort of the corps: moving to the Ay River between Lessay and Périers and securing a bridgehead over the river.12
Although la Haye-du-Puits was in the 8th Division zone, General Middleton directed the 79th Division to take it, probably because the 79th had already started the job.13 The town was held by only about 150 Germans, who lacked antitank weapons but defended with machine guns, small arms, and mortars. Virtually surrounded, shelled almost constantly by artillery and tanks, the Germans had mined the approaches to the town and refused to capitulate. The 79th therefore made a thorough plan of attack; artillery, armor, and tank destroyers were to support an assault battalion of infantry.
Late in the afternoon of 8 July, as heavy fire crashed overhead, infantrymen moved toward German mine fields strung with wire in checkerboard patterns about a foot off the ground. As the riflemen tried to high-step over the wire, enemy mortar bursts bracketed them. Machine gunners in trenches that the Americans had not even suspected of being in existence opened fire. Taking many casualties, three rifle companies advanced. Engineers placed their white tapes across mine-swept areas, while bulldozers cut avenues through the hedgerows for the supporting tanks. The infantry reached the northwest edge of la Haye-du-Puits by evening. One rifle company by then was without commissioned officers, but its men methodically cleared the railroad yards and inched toward the center of town. After a bloody house cleaning by the light of flaming buildings, the 79th Division turned la Haye-du-Puits
over to the 8th Division at noon, 9 July.14
Except for taking la Haye-du-Puits, the VIII Corps made no advance during 8 and 9 July. The temporary stalemate resulted from the last German attempts to retake the heights near the town--the Montgardon ridge and Mont Castre. Although the Germans failed to reach the high ground, they did prevent progress toward Lessay-Périers.
At the time it appeared that the failure to move for forty-eight hours rested squarely on the 8th Division, which was exhibiting the usual faults of a unit new to combat. Commanded by Maj. Gen. William C. McMahon, the 8th was rated one of the best-trained U.S. divisions in the European theater. Nevertheless, hesitation, inertia, and disorganization marked its first attempts to advance. Inaccurate reporting of map locations, large numbers of stragglers, and poor employment of attached units were usual symptoms of inexperience, but the division also demonstrated a particular ineptness in the realms of organization and control. When the 90th Division insisted that a regimental commander take responsibility for a sector assigned to him, he reported, "We explained we could not do so tonite or tomorrow morning. Must have time." After the division had struggled for a day to attain a measure of organization, a neighboring unit noted, "Everyone was more or less confused. . . . They didn't seem to be operating according to any particular plan." The deputy army commander, Lt. Gen. Courtney H. Hodges, visited the division commander and learned that "the 8th had made no known progress, for reasons not very clear."15
The commitment of the division coincided with vigorous local counterattacks launched by the enemy. Nevertheless, even after the enemy was repelled or contained, the subordinate units failed to press forward. General McMahon confessed more than once that he did not know exactly what was holding up his troops.16 The solution he applied was to relieve the commanders of both committed regiments. About the same time the energetic assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. Nelson M. Walker, was killed as he attempted to organize an infantry battalion for an attack.17 Finally, four days after committing the 8th Division, General Middleton relieved the commander.
Brig. Gen. Donald A. Stroh, formerly assistant commander of the 9th Division, assumed command. Advocating sideslipping and flanking movements, he committed his reserve regiment immediately in hope of gaining his objective quickly. Without special hedgerow training, the division learned through its own errors how to solve the problems of attack and soon began to manifest that steady if unspectacular advance that was feasible in the hedgerows. The troops moved with increasing confidence, maintaining momentum by bypassing
small isolated enemy groups.18 Despite continuing resistance, the division occupied the ridge overlooking the Ay River on 14 July and began to reconnoiter for crossing sites.
The 79th Division, which had attempted to advance south of the Montgardon ridge, had sustained heavy casualties and had moved not at all during 8 and 9 July.19 A typical rifle company had one officer and 94 men on 7 July, only 47 men two days later.
When German pressure lessened on 10 July, General Wyche again moved the division toward the Ay estuary, a blue blob of water shimmering tantalizingly three miles away in the midst of the green lowland. Jockeying his subordinate units in a series of apparently unrelated moves, short jabs that took advantage of local enemy weakness, General Wyche pressed his advance down the terrain that sloped toward Lessay. A fortunate mistake that occurred in the late afternoon of 11 July facilitated progress. Bombing inadvertently 4,000 yards inside the safety line, American planes rendered unexpected close support. As a result, the division easily took Angoville-sur-Ay. T he remaining distance to the Ay River was marked by decreasing resistance.
The 79th Division reached the Ay River on 14 July. Although Lessay remained in German hands, General Wyche had cleared the coastal sector between la Haye-du-Puits and the estuary. The effort might have seemed easy in retrospect, but it had cost close to 2,000 men.20
On the corps left, the 90th Division, which had been brutally handled by the Germans while taking Mont Castre and trying to push through the Beaucoudray corridor, clung doggedly to positions on the northeast portion of Mont Castre. As the enemy launched strong and repeated attacks on 8 and 9 July, General Landrum reinforced his infantry not only by committing his engineers but also by forming and employing miscellaneous groups of cooks, drivers, and clerks, as well as dismounted cavalry, to guard lines of communications and fill gaps in the infantry positions. To perform the normal engineer functions in the division area, the corps temporarily attached one of its battalions to the 90th Division. The 82d Airborne Division also helped. One enterprising officer set up a consolidated observation post in a chateau stable tower and on 8 July massed the fires of his regimental mortars on a counterattack in the 90th Division zone. This was a last burst of exuberance for the airborne unit; three days later the troops moved to the beach for transport to England.21
As the German pressure diminished
on 10 July, the depleted regiment on the 90th Division left, the 357th Infantry, attacked in the Beaucoudray corridor. Enemy machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire brought disorganization at once. The previous loss of commissioned and noncommissioned officers made effective control difficult. When two rifle companies broke ranks and fled, the regiment canceled further offensive effort for the day.
At the same time, a battalion of the 358th Infantry pushed through the dense thickets of Mont Castre and put to rout platoon-sized groups of Germans at close range. In the late afternoon the leading company with the help of six tanks reached the edge of the woods and the south slope of Mont Castre. As they left the concealment of the trees, German self-propelled guns opened fire on them. Flat-trajectory shells destroyed the tanks immediately and forced the infantry company, reduced to one officer and twenty-four men, back into the forest.22
Despite this local success, the Germans at the end of 10 July at last virtually abandoned Mont Castre. On the following day the 358th Infantry descended the south slope of the hill mass against little opposition.23 The situation eased; General Landrum relieved the division engineers of their infantry role. On 12 July the 357th Infantry moved through Beaucoudray against no more than perfunctory opposition.
By this time the division strength was so diminished that small German delaying groups exacted proportionately higher prices for local objectives. No company totaled more than a hundred men. Operating as a single battle group of but 122 men and 4 officers, the rifle components of the 3d Battalion, 358th Infantry, suffered 40 casualties, including all of the officers, at a crossroad ambush on 12 July.24
Reduced ranks and fatigue, the hedgerow terrain, and tactical, supply, and communication difficulties combined to deny the 90th Division a rapid advance in pursuit of a withdrawing enemy. It was 14 July when the division reached the Sèves River and established contact with the VII Corps on the left. General Landrum was finally at his objective, three miles north of Périers, but the move across the few miles from Mont Castre had cost almost 2,000 casualties.25
After twelve days and over 10,000 casualties, the VIII Corps had moved across seven miles of hedgerows to the banks of the Ay and the Sèves River. Early hope that the Germans would break quickly had long been dispelled. The enemy had given ground only grudgingly. Not until 10 July had the Germans weakened even slightly. Not until 13 July had they begun a genuine withdrawal to positions south of the Ay and the Sèves.
For all the lack of encouragement from an American viewpoint, Choltitz,
the LXXXIV Corps commander opposing the VIII Corps, had been increasingly concerned. He had suffered a minor brain concussion, and what was worse, he had seen all the reserves in his sector committed by 12 July, even the new arrivals from Brittany. The Panzer Lehr commander had threatened simply to take off with his tanks if he did not get reinforcements. Without reinforcements to send, Kluge on 13 July authorized the corps to fall back to the south banks of the two rivers. The withdrawal begun that evening was gradual and orderly.26
For the Americans, the Lessay--Périers line was only about one third of the distance to Coutances, the original VIII Corps objective. When the grinding attack through the hedgerows ceased, at least temporarily, on 14 July, Coutances, fourteen miles to the south, seemed as unattainable for the moment as Berlin. Yet a new army operation was being contemplated, an operation hopefully designed to gain Coutances more easily than by continuing a purely frontal assault.
From a one-division limited objective attack, the VII Corps effort had become a two-division attack in the Carentan-Périers isthmus. By 8 July the 83d and 4th Divisions had made such small gains, despite strenuous action, that there was still no space to employ the available 9th Division. The narrow zone of operations and the terrain had inhibited maneuver. Numerous streams and marshes and the hedgerows had broken large-scale attacks into small, local engagements. A resourceful enemy--the 6th Parachute Regiment, more and more units of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, and artillery and tank elements of the 2d SS Panzer Division--had felled trees to block the roads, used roaming tanks in mobile defense, and covered crossroads with devastating fire. Though depleted and battered by superior numbers, the Germans had shuffled their units skillfully and continued to make expert use of the terrain. They had revealed no signs of cracking suddenly under the weight of the corps attack.
Because of improved weather conditions, over a hundred planes of the IX Tactical Air Command on 8 July attacked along the VII Corps front only a few hundred feet ahead of a front line marked by artillery. The assistance had small effect. Even more discouraging was evidence that the Germans were bringing more tanks into the Carentan-Périers isthmus. Enemy patrols, each composed of a tank and fifteen to thirty infantrymen, probed the front and made local penetrations, two of which overran battalion aid stations of the 83d Division.
The forward positions of the corps were about five miles below Carentan and still a mile short of Sainteny. Twelve air miles due south of Sainteny was the final corps objective, a portion of the high ground extending generally from Coutances to Caumont. At the rate of advance made the preceding week, the final objective was at least a month and a half distant, but General
Collins kept his interest focused on it. The 4th Division was to secure high ground near Périers, then move south to cut the Lessay-Périers highway. The 83d Division was to gain the west bank of the Taute River, cross the stream, and move south to cut the Périers-St. Lô road. The 9th Division would have to be employed outside the Caretan-Périers isthmus.27
On the right (western) half of the Carentan-Périers isthmus, General Barton was finally able on 8 July to bring all three regiments of his 4th Division into the sector available to him, but only the 22d Infantry (Col. Charles T. Lanham) was directed toward Périers. Deployed on the narrowest portion of the isthmus, squeezed by the Prairies Marécageuses de Gorges on the right, the regiment was on the verge of leaving the narrow neck of land that ends near Sainteny. Even this prospect meant little, for the area southwest of Sainteny offered small hope of rapid advance. Dry ground suitable for military operations was nonexistent. The sluggish Sèves and Holerotte Rivers were swollen with rain, transforming the six miles of approach to Périers into a desolate bog scarcely distinguishable from swamp. The division not only had to fight the soggy crust of the land and the high water table, it also had to cross innumerable drainage ditches, small streams, and inundated marshes in an area without a single hard-surfaced road. The terrain alone would have been a serious obstacle; defended by Germans it was almost impassable.
Restricted by inadequate maneuver space, hindered by soft marshland, handicapped by the difficulties of observation, General Barton was unable to concentrate the power of his infantry and supporting arms in a sustained effort. Even the four battalions organic to the division artillery and the additional attached battalion of medium artillery were rarely able to mass their fires effectively. Because of the compartmentalizing effect of the terrain, General Barton attacked with regimental combat teams that pursued quite independent actions. Some measure of co-ordination in the attack could be attempted at the regimental level; more often it was feasible only at the battalion echelon.
While the 22d Infantry fought through the narrowest neck of the isthmus and the 12th rested in reserve, the 8th was trying to clear in a slow and methodical operation the small area on the division right rear, the area just north of the corridor and adjacent to the Prairies Marécageuses de Gorges. Four separate attacks since 8 July had failed. But on 10 July the Germans launched a counterattack; with enemy soldiers in the open for the first time, American artillery and mortar fire decimated their ranks. Striking quickly, the 8th Infantry caught the enemy off balance. Infantry and tanks swept the area, collecting 49 prisoners, burying 480 German dead, and incurring 4 casualties in return. On 11 July the 4th Division was ready to add the 8th Infantry to its effort toward Périers and attempt to blast through the corridor just north of Sainteny.
Still there was no sudden propulsion forward. The 22d Infantry moved into swampy terrain on the right for about
two miles against diminishing opposition; patrols crossed the Holerotte and the Sèves Rivers on 11 and 12 July and sought to make contact with the 90th Division, which was descending along the western edge of the great marsh. The other two regiments in columns of battalions fought toward Périers against strong resistance. Aided by occasional dive-bombers during the infrequent days of good weather, the division had advanced about two miles below Sainteny by 15 July. At the end of that day, still four miles short of Périers, General Barton received the order to halt.
The 4th Division was to be relieved and sent into reserve. In ten days of combat it had sustained approximately 2,300 casualties, including three battalion commanders and nine rifle company commanders.28 Progress at this cost was prohibitive. The division was to rest for a vital role in the forthcoming First Army operation hopefully designed to end frontal attack.
Hampered by similar conditions, the 83d Division on the left in the meantime had been trying to advance south along the road that crosses the isthmus laterally to the Taute River. The division was to secure the western bank of the river where a mile-long causeway traverses the Taute River flats; it also had to secure its original objective, Sainteny, which was now on its extreme right flank.
The 83d Division's major problem at first centered around German tanks. Increasing numbers of them were becoming apparent, not in concerted offensive action, but individually, backing up the defensive line. The 83d Division used tank, artillery, tank destroyer, and bazooka fire effectively to destroy them. Nevertheless, so many tanks were in evidence that subordinate commanders found it difficult to think beyond the necessity of eliminating them. Weakened by attrition and fatigue, the units failed to press toward their objectives even after eliminating the tanks that barred the way.
Thinking in the broader terms of taking the main objectives, General Macon exercised close supervision. When the 330th Infantry failed to advance during the morning of 9 July, he could see no reason for it.29 Just some tanks, the regimental commander explained, but he had a plan to eliminate them; just as soon as he accomplished this, his attack would get under way. General Macon suggested that with bazooka teams well forward and tanks in close support the regiment could attack and thereby accomplish both purposes, but the regimental commander insisted that he had to send out the bazookas before he moved his infantry forward.
"If you just send a [small] party down there," General Macon warned, "you will be fooling around all day."
"Yes, sir," the regimental commander agreed. But first he had to make certain that the enemy tanks were destroyed.
General Macon patiently explained that it was "awfully bad for the morale of the troops" to wait in place "hour after hour; you've got to keep moving," he insisted.
When General Macon phoned three
hours later, the regimental commander admitted that progress had been negligible. Aware of how physically and mentally tired all the subordinate commanders were, General Macon made his next move with reluctance. "I'll have to send someone down there to take over," he said. "We have got to take that objective."
Ten minutes later General Ferenbaugh, the assistant division commander, was on his way to assume temporary command of the regiment. That evening General Macon relieved the regimental commander.
The objective was the Taute River west bank, but the 330th failed to reach it on 9 July. The 331st, on the other hand, finally took Sainteny on that day, assisted by several fighter-bombers and by an adjacent unit of the 4th Division. In terms of real estate, the objective had little to offer, for it had been gutted by white phosphorus shells; it was nevertheless an important milestone on the road to Périers.
With the 4th Division assuming the task of driving toward Périers, the 83d Division turned its entire effort to reaching the west bank of the Taute. The immediate objective was the western point of the mile-long Tribehou causeway across the Taute River flats. When reached, the causeway would provide a crossing site for part of the division, which was to join other units that were sweeping the east bank of the Taute. The remainder of the 83d Division was to clear the west bank of the Taute to another causeway and cross there to the east bank.
Continuing toward the west bank of the Taute, the men found that enemy tanks and assault guns, often dug into the ground and employed as pillboxes, dominated the few trails in the area. Neither dive-bombing nor artillery and tank-destroyer fire appeared to have any effect on them. Although antiaircraft guns of 90-mm. caliber were brought forward, they too appeared powerless to dislodge or destroy them.30 Only bazooka teams of infantrymen, approaching by stealth to close range before firing their rockets, were capable of taking out the tanks and assault guns.
Prisoners, who said that cooks and bakers were acting as riflemen, gave the 83d hope that the German defenses were cracking, but the enemy had some butchers too, and optimism vanished as the Germans continued to defend with the skill of trained infantrymen. Nevertheless, at the end of 13 July, the 330th Infantry reached the west bank of the Taute near the causeway. To make the advance, the regiment had destroyed over twenty tanks in four days. On 14 July the 330th Infantry crossed the Tribehou causeway and joined other units in sweeping the east bank of the Taute. The regiment was temporarily detached from 83d Division control.
The remaining two regiments of the 83d attacked to reach the other causeway south of the Tribehou crossing site but made little progress. On 13 July several enemy tanks advanced boldly and sprayed a battalion position with machine gun fire, causing the unit to withdraw from a hard-won objective. Cruising tank-infantry teams surrounded the 3d Battalion, 331st Infantry, that night and isolated 126 men for two days before adjacent units could come forward
Shelled Church in Sainteny, World War I memorial in foreground.
in relief. In vain the 83d Division strove to plow the few miles to the projected crossing site.
During twelve days, the 83d Division had sustained a staggering total of 5,000 casualties. Indeed, had it not been for progressive integration of replacements as the fighting developed, the division would have been little more than a skeleton. As it was, the units were far from first-rate fighting forces. The 331st Infantry had five commanders in one week, and only when Col. Robert H. York arrived on 13 July to become the seventh commander did the regiment achieve a measure of stability.
The attached tank battalion had lost half its tanks to enemy fire by 10 July.31 The failure of the 83d Division to make gains in mileage was not due to inherent deficiency. General Collins made a personal test on 11 July when he arrived at the division command post at a time when General Macon was visiting a subordinate unit. In an attempt to get the division moving, the corps commander issued specific attack instructions and directed the subsequent attack, but he could not free the division from
the frustration of advancing, at most, at the rate of several hedgerows per day.
At midnight on 15 July, the 4th and 83d Divisions (the latter less the 330th Infantry) passed to control of the VIII Corps as part of a reorganization along the entire army front. The 83d began to relieve portions of the 4th Division. Several days later, the newly arrived 4th Armored Division completed the relief.32
Terrain and the enemy had brought the VII Corps to a halt on the Carentan-Périers isthmus by 15 July. "The Germans are staying in there just by the guts of their soldiers," General Barton remarked. "We outnumber them ten to one in infantry, fifty to one in artillery, and by an infinite number in the air."33 The VII Corps attack nevertheless had achieved several ends: by moving the front line a few miles farther from Carentan, the corps had eliminated the nuisance shelling of the town and its vital highway bridge; it had prevented the Germans from launching a counterattack in the sector considered the weakest along the entire American front; and it had inflicted serious losses on the German forces.34
While the Germans defended stubbornly and adroitly in the zones of the VII and VIII Corps, they directed their greatest effort against the XIX Corps between the Taute and Vire Rivers. This was the sector where the 30th Division and Combat Command B of the 3d Armored Division were attacking toward the high ground west of St. Lô.
If the U.S. troops reached their objective, the Germans reasoned, they might unhinge the German line in the Cotentin and outflank not only those units defending la Haye-du-Puits and Périers but also the II Parachute Corps in the St. Lô-Caumont sector. To reinforce Kampfgruppe Heinz and the small portion of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division resisting between the Taute and the Vire, the II Parachute Corps sent part of its reserves, light forces organized around a mobile brigade, to close the gap opened by the American attack. But these troops were obviously too few to dissipate the danger of a serious breakthrough, and the 2d SS Panzer Division consequently added a tank-infantry task force, which attacked the American flank on 9 July.35
Deciding two days earlier that they needed a strong force between the Taute and the Vire, Kluge and Rommel obtained the Panzer Lehr Division from the Panzer Group West front in order to mount a major counterattack.36 While the division traveled westward across the Normandy front toward the Taute and Vire region, the inexperience and errors of the U.S. units as much as firm resistance offered by the relatively small German combat groups--the armored task forces and the remnants of Kampfgruppe Heinz, reinforced by the parachute corps reserves--prevented a genuine
American breakthrough.37 The arrival of advance elements of Panzer Lehr on 10 July was to seal off the penetration, while the projected Panzer Lehr counterattack threatened to reverse the situation completely and throw the Americans on the defensive.
General Corlett on 8 July had sent Combat Command A of the 3d Armored Division across the Vire to reinforce the 113th Cavalry Group on the right flank. Adding further to the strength of the already considerable force in the XIX Corps bridgehead, and arriving accidentally in time to meet the attack of Panzer Lehr, came the 9th Division, the unit that General Collins had been unable to employ with the rest of his VII Corps on the Carentan-Périers isthmus.
Upon General Hodges' suggestion, General Collins persuaded General Bradley on 8 July that committing the unemployed 9th Division along the east bank of the Taute River would fulfill two useful functions. By outflanking the German resistance on the Carentan-Périers isthmus, the division would help the VII Corps and provide strong protection to the XIX Corps right flank. Bradley decided that the 9th Division's attack would be related more properly to the VII Corps action than to the XIX Corps advance toward St. Lô, so he let Collins retain control of the division. Moving the VII Corps boundary to the east and giving Collins a slice of the XIX Corps zone, General Bradley split the Taute and Vire area between the VII and XIX Corps, the new boundary to be effective as soon as the 9th Division crossed the Vire et Taute Canal and was ready to attack. General Collins ordered the division to attack westward--between the canal on the north and the St. Jean-de-Daye--le Désert road on the south--toward the Taute River. After making contact with the 83d Division, the 9th was to turn south to cut the Périers-St. Lô highway.38
The 9th Division was thoroughly battle trained. It had participated in the North African invasion and the Sicilian campaign and in June had played a prominent part in the capture of Cherbourg. General Eisenhower considered it one of the two he rated "tops" in the European theater.39 The division commander, Maj Gen. Manton S. Eddy, had organized his headquarters in a fashion that resembled German practice. So that he might be free to visit the line units, Eddy kept the assistant division commander at the command post to make emergency decisions and to supervise the "operational group"--the G-2 and G-3 Sections--while the chief of staff supervised the "administrative group"--the G-1 and G-4 Sections.40 The division had considerable potential fire power and mobility. In addition to controlling two extra battalions of artillery, one light and one medium, the 9th Division assumed control of Combat Command A of the 3d Armored Division and also of the 113th Cavalry Group. To keep the mobile armor and cavalry available for emergency use, General Eddy planned to hold them in reserve. At first he would employ his three infantry
regiments abreast, attacking westward toward the Taute.
The 9th Division crossed the Vire et Taute Canal on 9 July and was ready on the following morning to meet again the challenge of fighting in the hedgerows. A preparation by dive-bombers and artillery preceded the attack. Two regiments met opposition immediately and to their consternation advanced but several hedgerows. The third regiment had better success clearing the corner formed by the juncture of the Taute River and the Vire et Taute Canal. Resistance was light and enemy artillery conspicuous by its silence. A reconnaissance patrol, however, moving toward Tribehou Island in the Taute River flats, was turned back by mortar and machine gun fire.
That night, as the 9th Division reorganized for attack on the morning of 11 July, enemy fire increased and small groups of tanks and infantry attempted to infiltrate the lines. German tank motors sounded in the distance. From just beyond the division positions came the noise of infantrymen digging in. The 9th Division staff officers depreciated these signs, for they believed that the Germans were merely covering preparations for a general withdrawal during the night. Although the 30th Division on the left reported heavy enemy traffic moving toward the Taute River, the 9th Division staff preferred to accept as more valid an announcement from the 4th Division that the enemy was falling back. This judgment coincided with the view held at First Army headquarters. The army G-2 had interpreted the noisy march across the American front by Panzer Lehr, which had repeatedly broken radio silence en route, as a demonstration of German bluff, an action presaging in reality a general withdrawal.41
The Germans were not bluffing. Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein, the commander of Panzer Lehr, had received his march order on 8 July and had moved at once, though poor roads and strafing by Allied planes had hampered the division march. Not until the night of 10 July was the division in position to attack--too late, Rommel thought. Kampfgruppe Heinz, which had suffered approximately 30 percent casualties and had virtually disintegrated as an organized unit, was withdrawn to the southwest as artillery of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadiers gave covering fire and the 30th Mobile Brigade and the tank-infantry teams of the 2d SS Panzer Division launched local counterattacks. Hausser, the Seventh Army commander, attached these elements to Panzer Lehr, visited the division command post, and talked over the details of the attack with Bayerlein. With Rommel pushing for speed, Panzer Lehr was to attack at once--that night. (Map 7)
Bayerlein planned to attack with two regimental combat teams abreast. The regiments were to converge on the St. Jean-de-Daye crossroads from the southwest and the south. With the high ground at the crossroads in his possession, he would have command of the American crossing sites over the canal and the river, north and east of St. Jean-de-Daye. Hoping that the night attack would easily achieve a breakthrough,
Map 7. Panzer Lehr Attack, 11 July 1944
Bayerlein envisioned the infantry riding tanks to the objective. The II Parachute Corps was to launch a feint directly north from St. Lô in a limited objective attack along the east bank of the Vire River.42
The jump-off was scheduled for 0145, 11 July. Unfortunately for Panzer Lehr, Combat Command B of the 3d Armored Division in driving toward Hauts-Vents had jostled and delayed the leading panzer elements getting ready to attack. Still in firm possession of Hauts-Vents, Panzer Lehr jumped off just before dawn, 11 July, after a short artillery preparation. The routes of attack passed on both sides of CCB. The regiment on the right, moving close to the Vire River through Pont-Hébert, aimed for the Airel bridge and struck the 30th Division. The regiment on the left, moving through le Désert, struck the 30th and 9th Divisions.43
In the 9th Division sector, the division staff still was not seriously perturbed even after receiving reports at 0300 of German infiltration along the left flank. Two hours later the fact that Germans were making noise, were firing a great deal, and appeared "to be all around now" occasioned little more than nonchalance mixed with some incredulity. Not until the division artillery reported some confusion because German infantrymen were approaching the gun positions did the staff realize that a counterattack was under way. About the same time an infantry battalion command post was overrun. As reports began to indicate that enemy tanks were throughout the division area, telephone lines from all the regiments went out. Still the situation did not seem serious enough to wake the division commander.44
Panzer Lehr's leading elements on the left--two battalions of armored infantry, a company of tanks, and two companies of self-propelled guns--had actually made two shallow penetrations of the U.S. lines near le Désert, one along a regimental boundary of the 9th Division, the other between the 9th and 30th Divisions. The penetrations prompted confusion and some withdrawal before subordinate American commanders could begin to control their troops in close-range fighting.
After daylight brought some amelioration of the confusion, and after wiremen by 0900 had restored communications to the regiments, General Eddy got a coordinated defense into action. Infantrymen cut behind German spearheads to seal routes of withdrawal, while tanks, tank destroyers, and infantry bazooka teams stalked the isolated enemy armor.45 Tank destroyers alone claimed destruction of at least one Mark IV and twelve Mark V (Panther) tanks. The division artillery pounded enemy tanks parked along the road west of le Désert. American planes flying other missions
were diverted to counter the Panzer Lehr threat, and one formation dropped twenty-two 500-pound bombs on a German armored column.
By the middle of the afternoon of 11 July, the 9th Division had contained the enemy attack. General Eddy was then able to launch his own counterattack and regain ground abandoned earlier in the day. Because of the possibility of further enemy armored action, Eddy established a strong defensive line, giving particular attention to antitank precautions. The 9th Division had sustained little more than a hundred casualties. The only effect of the Panzer Lehr effort was to delay the 9th Division attack twenty-four hours.
Along the boundary between the 9th and 30th Divisions, confusion had at first also prevailed among men of the 30th. At a roadblock on a secondary route, guards heard tanks approaching, but were told by higher headquarters that American tanks were in the vicinity. The men let a column of tanks and infantry pass before noticing that the soldiers in the column were speaking German. They immediately alerted troops in the rear who engaged the column with antitank rifles and bazookas. Individual groups of infantrymen spontaneously and with little coordination or direction destroyed five enemy tanks and four armored scout cars, two of the latter mounting flame throwers. Machine guns emplaced earlier that evening for all-around security fired into the ranks of enemy infantry. As the night exploded into sound and flash, the noise of withdrawing tanks gradually became discernible. In the morning it was obvious that the point of the enemy armored column had been blunted and the main body forced to withdraw.
At the same time, units of the 30th Division near the west bank of the Vire River were repelling the other regimental column of Panzer Lehr. Before noon of 11 July, U.S. troops had contained the enemy attack in that area and had cleared German stragglers from the division rear.46 Though General Hobbs launched his own attack, it ran into resistance at once and made only slight gain.
The effect of the Panzer Lehr attack was not confined to the front line. At the still inadequate crossing sites over the Vire, military policemen had been driven from their traffic control posts by the increased enemy shelling. Traffic quickly coagulated. To relieve the congestion and reduce the possibility of embarrassment if a direct shell hit destroyed a bridge, a Bailey bridge was erected and completed late on 12 July; it took somewhat longer than normal because of continuing German fire.47
The 30th Division estimated that, with CCB, it had destroyed about 20 Mark IV tanks on 11 July. General Collins judged that the VII Corps had destroyed over 30 German tanks, most of them in the 9th Division sector. Three tactical air squadrons, which had bombed German
German Panthers knocked out near le Désert, 11 July.
armored columns, claimed 19 tanks destroyed, 2 probably destroyed, and 7 damaged; 2 half-tracks destroyed and 6 damaged.48 Perhaps more important, at the height of the counterattack, CCB of the 3d Armored Division had been attacking Hauts-Vents and Hill 91, objectives the unit secured at 1730, 11 July. Without this commanding terrain, Panzer Lehr was in the situation of having had the prop knocked out from under its effort; an immediate resumption of the counterattack was out of the question.
The effect of the American action was considerable. Panzer Lehr had lost a quarter of its effective combat strength. One task force had started out with 6 infantry officers, 40 noncommissioned officers, and 198 enlisted men (with 36 light machine guns, 5 heavy machine guns, and 10 bazookas), plus a company of tanks (10); only 7 noncommissioned officers and 23 men had returned with their individual small arms and 6 light machine guns. The Panzer Lehr counterattack had been a dismal and costly failure.49
Prompt American reaction was only part of the story. More important was the presence of the 9th Division, which the Germans had not known was there. Hastily executing an attack that had come too late, Bayerlein had tried a blitzkrieg in the hedgerows against a numerically superior American force. He had also courted defeat in detail by committing his two assault columns along routes that turned out to be too far apart for mutual support.
Judging the attack to have been an attempt to cut through to Isigny and
divide the Allied beachhead, the Americans disparaged the German plan as carelessly conceived, hastily organized, and imperfectly directed. This appraisal overestimated the importance of the effort. As far back as 13 June, when German troops had failed to retake Carentan, tactical commanders had abandoned all hope of regaining Isigny and the coast in that sector, even though as late as 24 June Hitler talked about the possibility of recovering Carentan. From the Panzer Lehr attack the Germans had expected little more than limited success, but even that came to naught. By 12 July Panzer Lehr was entirely committed in passive defense. Its only accomplishment was having "stopped the American drive to St. Gilles," the high ground west of St. Lô. Bayerlein congratulated his troops for that.50
If Panzer Lehr had not succeeded in eliminating the U.S. positions south of the Vire et Taute Canal, it was at least in position to block American attempts to continue quickly to the south. Nor was it by this time alone. The original decision to move Panzer Lehr from the Panzer Group West front had been made at least partially because units outside Normandy that were to reinforce the front still had not arrived. OB WEST had wanted to move the 5th Parachute Division from Brittany to Normandy but needed Hitler's permission to do so. Hitler delayed because the division had been rated in June as suitable only for defensive missions. As various echelons discussed the question of whether the parachutists' training was sufficiently advanced for the unit to be committed in Normandy, the troops of the division sat idle along the roads in Brittany. After much lobbying of OKW by OB WEST staff members, Kluge on 7 July, finally wheedled Hitler's reluctant consent and ordered the paratroopers to march on foot to Normandy. Young troops under inexperienced commanders, they moved into the Taute and Vire area behind Panzer Lehr during the night of 11 July. Behind them came the additional forces of the 275th Infantry Division.51 Bolstering the Panzer Lehr defenses, they were in position to hamper the 9th and 30th Division efforts to move south to the Périers-St. Lô highway.
Although General Bradley felt that his troops had "pretty well chewed up the Panzer Lehr," that the Germans were "on their last legs," and that the American offensive "should open up," subordinate commanders were of the opinion that the Panzer Lehr soldiers were "great big, husky boys, and arrogant . . . not beaten at all."52
Although the ground between the Taute and Vire Rivers was intrinsically suitable for the application of a unified command, General Bradley had split the
Toward the Périers--St. Lô Road
region in two. The 9th Division on the right (west) thus could operate with the VII Corps and toward the objectives of that corps. The 30th Division on the left (east) carried the XIX Corps attack toward the high ground west of St. Lô.
On 10 July, when the 9th Division first had been committed between the Taute and the Vire, General Eddy was supposed to have secured the east bank of the Taute River before turning south to cut the Périers-St. Lô highway. To secure the river bank, he had attacked westward toward four specific objectives adjoining the stream: the corner formed by the juncture of the Taute River and the Vire et Taute Canal; the island of Tribehou, a hedgerowed mound of earth the possession of which would enable the 83d Division to make an administrative rather than an assault crossing of the Taute; the Bois du Hommet, a scrub forest that the Germans were using as an assembly area for troops and supplies; and the peninsula of Vincenterie. With these objectives cleared and a portion of the 83d Division across the Taute and operating on the 9th Division's right flank, General Eddy could then turn south to cut the east-west highway between Périers and St. Lô. (See Maps 5 and II.)
General Eddy had secured only one of his objectives, the corner formed by the river and the canal, when the Panzer Lehr attack disrupted his plans. To forestall a recurrence, Eddy oriented the 47th Infantry (Col. George W. Smythe) toward the south so as to be ready to swing west to outflank and isolate the spearhead of any counterattack. The 39th Infantry (Col. Harry A. Flint) was to drive along the axis of the highway west of le Désert against what appeared to be the main German defenses. The 60th Infantry (Col. Jesse L. Gibney) was to secure the three remaining objectives that adjoined the east bank of the Taute.
Attacking on 12 July, the 60th Infantry met little opposition. While the 24th Reconnaissance Squadron of Colonel Biddle's 113th Cavalry Group blocked Tribehou on the northeast, the 60th bypassed it. Patrols found the northern portion of the Bois du Hommet unoccupied, and after an artillery preparation fired by eight battalions, the regiment moved through the forest in force against light resistance. Another artillery preparation that evening preceded an infantry move into Vincenterie, which was occupied by midnight. The reconnaissance squadron cleared Tribehou of weak forces on the following day, 13 July.
The 60th Infantry's quick success found no counterpart in the other regimental sectors. Battling west and south of le Désert, the 39th and 47th Regiments met an obdurate enemy. The Germans had shifted their forces to strengthen their positions near le Désert, and they were aggressive. Small tank-infantry combat teams provided a roving defense employing tactics of surprise.53 As the 39th Infantry fought from hedgerow to hedgerow astride the le Désert road, a small German force, with mortars and self-propelled guns, worked around the flank of a rifle company late in the afternoon of 12 July. Sudden German fire inflicted heavy casualties, including all the company
officers. As the American riflemen began to fall back in confusion, a tank destroyer officer, 1st Lt. Jack G. Hubbard, who was nearby, quickly assumed command and held the men in place until another infantry company came forward and dispersed the Germans.54 Rain on 13 July nullified air support, and the two regiments again registered inconclusive gains.
When the 330th Infantry of the 83d Division crossed the Tribehou causeway over the Taute River to Vincenterie and was attached to the 9th Division at noon, 14 July, General Eddy set his sights on the Périers-St. Lô highway. He lined the four infantry regiments abreast along an east-west line between Vincenterie and le Désert with the intention of driving quickly across the four miles to the objective. As the attack began, the major problems became evident: an excessively broad front, terrain that canalized offensive action, an infinite number of hedgerows, and an enemy who infiltrated in stubborn groups. All three battalions of the 60th Infantry fought through the night of 14 July against enemy troops that cut wire communications between the battalions and the regimental headquarters. A German company with captured Sherman tanks boldly approached a 47th Infantry roadblock and shot up the outpost. Mines, earth and log obstructions, wrecked vehicles, and debris impeded the division attack. The Germans blew craters in roadbeds and felled trees across the narrow country lanes. While the engineers devoted the bulk of their efforts to keeping the channels of communication and advance open, operations became "a succession of difficult frontal attacks from hedgerow to hedgerow." By the end of 15 July, after six days of combat, even the seasoned and battle-trained 9th Division had advanced scarcely six miles.55
The situation was somewhat similar for the 30th Division. While the infantry had met the Panzer Lehr attack, the attached CCB had secured Hill 91 at Hauts-Vents and organized defensive positions about a thousand yards to t he south. CCB was to have been released from attachment after capturing Hauts-Vents, but for four days the armor held the most advanced point of the 30th Division line, sitting "on a hot spot" and receiving artillery fire from front and flanks, plus occasional strafing and bombing from American planes. Formerly anxious to be rid of the combat command, General Hobbs now argued to keep it because, as he said, he feared the armor in pulling out might "mix up the roads" and because his own attached tank battalion was a 60 percent loss.56 The simple truth was that General Hobbs needed the combat command to insure retention of Hauts-Vents.
By the end of 11 July, its fifth day of battle, the 30th Division had sustained 1,300 casualties, and the men who remained were "dead on their feet." Tankers who fought all day long and serviced their vehicles a good part of the night frequently reported, "Tanks need maintenance, men need rest." Four
days later, after fighting to come abreast of the combat command, the 30th Division had taken even heavier losses, almost another 2,000.57
In coming virtually abreast of the combat command at Hauts-Vents by 14 July, the 30th Division was in advance of units on its flanks and found itself compressed into a narrow zone. Hauts-Vents is at the northern tip of a narrow ridge leading directly to the Périers-St. Lô highway. Scarcely two miles wide and rising between the Vire River on the east and the Terrette River on the west, this ground sharply defined the 30th Division's zone of advance. The division positions represented a kind of peninsula in an enemy sea that had to be defended as much on the flanks as at the tip. Because the narrow ridge denied maneuver room, the troops had no choice but to operate on the exposed eastern and western slopes. The men on the faces of the ridges presented good targets to German enfilading fire from the flanks. German artillery pieces emplaced across the Vire River in defense of St. Lô inflicted 90 percent of the casualties incurred by the 119th Infantry on the division left flank. For effective counterbattery fire, the 30th Division on at least one occasion directed missions fired by U.S. artillery battalions east of the Vire. The division suddenly became highly conscious of the importance of camouflage, though measures undertaken seemed to improve the situation but little.58
Although the Vire River was an effective barrier to enemy infiltration on the left flank, the Terrette was not large enough to deny movement. The primary requirement on the right thus was a closely tied-in series of defensive strongpoints. Compressed into a narrow zone, the 30th Division could do little but hold doggedly to its positions, concentrate on preserving its defensive integrity, hope fervently that the adjacent units would soon come abreast, and advance whenever possible in the slow, tedious process of moving frontally from one hedgerow to the next.
On 14 July, in conjunction with an attack launched on the east bank of the Vire River, the 30th Division, after several days of effort, finally secured the bridge at Pont-Hébert. Possession of the bridge plus the presence of the combat command at Hauts-Vents constituted a threat to St. Lô from the west. Although the Germans defending St. Lô were by this time fighting off an attack by the XIX Corps directly toward the city, they were sufficiently concerned with the indirect threat to increase their artillery fire against the 30th Division. They became very much aware of the fact that continued American progress in the Taute and Vire sector would outflank the entire LXXXIV Corps.59
Delayed by both the Panzer Lehr counterattack and a combination of enemy and terrain, the 9th and 30th Divisions still were short of fulfilling their
missions when a new factor emerged to modify General Bradley's earlier split of the Taute and Vire River area. As his new plan to get out of the Cotentin approached maturity, the ground near the Périers-St. Lô highway became a vital necessity. To make possible a joint effort by the 9th and 30th Divisions toward the new objective--the Périers-St. Lô highway--General Bradley shifted the corps boundaries again. At midnight on 15 July, General Collins' VII Corps relinquished the Carentan-Périers isthmus to the VIII Corps and assumed control of the area between the Taute and the Vire.
When General Collins surveyed his new VII Corps sector on 16 July, he saw a discouraging prospect. The divisions, although excellent, battle-proved units, were making no more than painfully slow progress toward the Périers-St. Lô highway. On the right, sudden and repeated incursions by small groups of enemy troops on the flanks and in the rear of the 9th Division were disturbing. On the left, the 30th Division's advance along a narrow ridge line with its flanks exposed to fire and infiltration looked less than comforting. Although both divisions had combat commands of armor attached and could have used them, developing plans for the new First Army attack required that the combat commands be withdrawn and reunited under parental control. General Collins detached the armor on 16 July, though he retained two tank companies with the 30th Division and three with the 9th.60
The attack then continued as before. Believing that the 9th Division had made a minor breakthrough on 16 July, General Eddy optimistically hoped to be astride the objective by dusk that day.61 The hope was premature. The soft terrain of the Terrette River valley and the ubiquitous hedgerows virtually stultified maneuver. The 30th Division was reluctant to abandon the high ground of its ridge sector to clear the valley of the Terrette, while the 9th Division was occupied all along its front and unable for a time to make a special effort on its left flank.
Not until 17 July, when the 330th Infantry finally gained positions close to the Périers-St. Lô road and thereby insured the 9th Division a secure right flank, could General Eddy begin a systematic sweep of the river valley. While the 330th Infantry reverted to its parent 83d Division, the organic regiments of the 9th Division took up the new assignment. At the same time, the 30th Division captured two small bridges and eliminated the possibility of enemy infiltration on the division's right flank.
Four days after the VII Corps assumed control of the sector, the 9th and 30th Divisions reached ground that overlooked the Périers-St. Lô highway between the Taute River and the Vire. The Germans continued to deny the road itself. Although "resistance remained undiminished," the VII Corps attack ceased.62 The troops held a line adequate, General Bradley believed, for initiating the new First Army operation.
In moving eight miles from the Vire et Taute Canal to the Périers-St. Lô highway, the 30th Division between 7
and 20 July lost over 3,000 men; the 9th Division between 10 and 20 July sustained about 2,500 casualties.63 Although the divisions were several hundred yards short of the highway, they dominated the road by fire. The VII Corps was abreast of the positions attained several days earlier by the VIII Corps, which dominated the same highway between Lessay and Périers.
In the meantime, the First Army offensive had again been broadened, this time by an attack east of the Vire River, where the XIX Corps was trying to take St. Lô.
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