United States Army in World War II
European Theater of Operations

Breakout and Pursuit

Martin Bllumenson




. . . to Those Who Served


The campaign in the summer of 1944 related in this volume included some of the most spectacular ground action of the U.S. Army during World War II. It began with the slow and costly hedgerow fighting against determined German efforts to contain the Normandy beachhead; it entered its decisive stage when the breach of German defenses permitted full exploitation of the power and mobility of U.S. Army ground troops; and it reached the peak of brilliance with successive envelopments of principal German forces and the pursuit of their remnants north and east to free most of France, part of Belgium, and portions of the Netherlands. By late August the war in the west appeared to be almost over, but the tyranny of logistics gave the enemy time to rally at the fortified West Wall and delay surrender for another eight months.

In the European Theater subseries the backdrop for this volume is Cross-Channel Attack, which carries the story to 1 July. Breakout and Pursuit follows the U.S. First Army through 10 September (where The Siegfried Line Campaign picks up the narrative), and the U.S. Third Army through 31 August (where The Lorraine Campaign begins). The logistical factors that played so large a part in governing the pace and extent of combat operations are described in much greater detail in Volume I of Logistical Support of the Armies.

The tremendous scope of this campaign, and its partially improvised character, have left a heritage of controversies to which no final answers can be given. The author has had free access to the records and to many of the leading players in the drama, and his account should have wide appeal to the general reader as well as to the serious military student of grand tactics.

Washington 25, D.C.
15 June 1960
Brigadier General, USA
Chief of Military History


The Author

Martin Blumenson, a graduate of Bucknell University, received M.A. degrees in History from Bucknell in 1940 and from Harvard University in 1942. Commissioned in the Army of the United States, he served as a historical officer of the Third and Seventh Armies in the European theater during World War II. After the war he taught history at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point) and at Hofstra College. Recalled to active duty with the U.S. Army in 1950, he commanded a historical detachment in Korea before beginning work on Breakout and Pursuit in June 1952. He wrote the book while on active duty in the Office of the Chief of Military History. After a tour of duty as Historian, Joint Task Force SEVEN, he returned to OCMH as a civilian historian and is writing a volume on the war in the Mediterranean theater--Salerno to Cassino. His works include Special Problems of the Korean Conflict (Washington, 1952); The Atomic Weapons Tests in the Pacific, 1956 (Washington, 1957); two essays in Command Decisions (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1959); and numerous articles in military and historical journals.



Covering the period 1 July to 11 September 1944, Breakout and Pursuit takes up the story of the European campaign at the time when the Allies considered their cross-Channel beachhead well established on the Continent. How the Allies exploited the initial success of their landings and drove from the shores of Normandy to the German border is the subject of the volume.

The events of the period comprise a rich variety of military experience. Virtually every sort of major operation involving co-ordinated action of the combined arms is found: the grueling positional warfare of the battle of the hedgerows, the breakthrough of the main enemy position, exploitation, encirclement, and pursuit, as well as a number of actions falling under the general heading of special operations--an assault river crossing, the siege of a fortress, and night combat, among others. In their variety and complexity, these operations frequently bring into sharp focus the delicate problems of coalition warfare.

The point of view is from the top down--how the situation appeared to the commanders and what decisions they made to solve their problems. Though the author has tried to present at some time or other the situation at each command echelon on the Allied side, the most consistent observation post is at the corps level where, because of the nature of the operations, particular independence of judgment and great initiative in action were required.

The emphasis is on the ground combat performed by U.S. Army troops. The activities of the other Allied forces and of the opposing Germans are included to the extent required to bring the American effort into proper perspective. Air support and logistical arrangements have been detailed when necessary for a better understanding of ground operations.

The attempt has been made to fulfill two objectives, each of which has sometimes excluded the other. On the one hand, the author has endeavored to present material of interest to the career soldier, who may seek instruction and who may perhaps be prompted to further study. On the other hand, the author has tried to write an account of interest to the general reader, who may be motivated by curiosity and the hope of learning in some detail about the conduct of the campaign, the expenditure of men and materiel, and the problems that face military leaders engaged in war.

The dates in the volume are all in 1944 unless otherwise noted.


The author has had the privilege and pleasure of working with many who have lightened his task and to whom he is greatly indebted. Mr. Wsevolod Aglaimoff, Deputy Chief Historian for Cartography, gave liberally of his military sophistication, perspective, and wisdom; his contributions to the military content and language of this volume were considerable. Mr. James B. Hodgson did most of the research in the German records; his knowledge of enemy operations was always a tonic to an author struggling to reflect both sides of the same battle in a single mirror. Miss Mary Ann Bacon, the editor, saved the author embarrassment by discovering before it was too late many inconsistencies and contradictions in fact as well as in style. Dr. Kent Roberts Greenfield, the former Chief Historian, by his very presence an inspiration in the cause of scholarship, gave invaluable help in military as well as historical matters during the writing and revision of the manuscript.

Mrs. Lois Aldridge at the Federal Records Center, Alexandria, was never too busy to locate and make available pertinent documents, which otherwise would not have come to the author's attention. Mrs. Helen V. Whittington, copy editor, performed a painstaking task with cheerful patience. Ruth Alexandra Phillips selected the photographs. Nicholas J. Anthony compiled the Index.

Among those to whom the author owes a special debt of appreciation are the present Chief of Military History, Brig. Gen. James A. Norell, as well as Maj. Gens. Orlando Ward, Albert C. Smith, and John H. Stokes, former Chiefs of Military History, and Cols. George G. O'Connor and Ridgway P. Smith, Jr., former Chiefs of the War Histories Division.

The work was undertaken under the guidance of Dr. Hugh Cole and the supervision of Dr. Roland A. Ruppenthal, former chiefs of the European section. It was completed under the direction of Mr. Charles B. Mac-Donald, Senior Historical Adviser of the World War II Branch, whose understanding of military operations, felicity of phrase, and patient and unsparing counsel put him without question first among those who helped to give the volume whatever value it may have.

To these and many more go my sincere thanks.

For the facts presented, the interpretations made, and the conclusions drawn, for inadequacies and errors, I alone am responsible.

Washington, D.C.
15 Junen 1960



Forward v
The Author vi
Preface vii
In the Wake of the Invasion
I. The Allies 3
    Mission 3
    Forces 7
    Terrain 10
    Tactics 13
II. The Enemy 17
    The Machinery of War 17
    The Changing Strategy 20
    Tactical Dispostions 29
III. The Situation 36
    American 36
    German 47
The Battle of the Hedgerows
IV. The Offensive Launched 53
    The Preparations 53
    The Defenses 58
    Poterie Ridge 60
    Mont Castre 63
    Montgardon Ridge 72
V. The Offensive Broadened 78
    The Carentan--Périers Isthmus 78
    The Vire and Taute Bridgehead 90
VI. The Attempt to Exploit 102
VII. The Offensive Continued 119
    The Battle for Caen 119
    Toward Lessay 123
    Toward Périers 128
    Counterattack 133
    Toward the Périers-St. Lo Road 140
VIII. The Battle for St. Lô 146
    The Objective 146
    Hill 192 149
    Down the Martinville Ridge 153
    Hill 122 159
    "Come Hell or High Water" 163
    A Legend is Born 166
IX. The Conclusions 175
    The American Point of View 175
    The German Point of View 180
X. The Breakthrough Idea 185
    In Search of a Panacea 185
    In Search of a Breakthrough: GOODWOOD 188
XI. COBRA Preparations 197
    Preliminary Operations 198
    The Troops 204
    The Plot Against Hitler 210
    The Breakthrough Plan 213
    The Opposition 224
    Bombardment 228
    Effect on the Enemy 238
    Groud Attack 241
XIII. The Breakthrough 247
    German Reaction 247
    Penetration 249
    Commitment of Armor 252
    Limited Exploitation 255
XIV. The Breakthrough Developed 264
    The Second Thrust Toward Coutances 264
    The Pressure Force 266
    COBRA Completed 272
XV. Exploiting the Breach 282
    The COBRA Diversion 282
    The Post-COBRA Plan 286
    East of the Vire River 290
    A Clash of Spearheads 295
XVI. Breakthrough Becomes Breakout 305
    The Outflanking Force 305
    The Breakout to Avranches 309
XVII. The "Incalculable" Results 323
    The Riesensaurerei 323
    The Explanation 325
    The Allied Outlook 331
Breakout Into Brittany
XVIII. Plans, Personalities, and Problems 339
    German Plans 339
    A New Army 343
    Personalities and Concepts 347
    Problems 351
XIX. Rennes, Lorient, and Nantes 357
XX. "Take Brest" 369
XXI. St. Malo and the North Shore 389
    The Decision at St. Malo 389
    Sweeping the North Shore 391
    "To the Last Stone" 393
    The Reduction of Dinard 399
    Seige Operations 402
    The Citadel 406
    Cèzembre 411
Breakout to the East
XXII. Week of Decision 419
    The German Decision 419
    Commitment of a Coprs 424
    OVERLORD Modified 430
    "Don't Be Surprised" 432
XXIII. Opportunities and Intentions 440
    The American Task 440
    The German Task 442
    The Drive to Mortain 444
    The Battle for Vire 449
    Montgomery's Intentions 454
XXIV. The Mortain Counterattack 457
    German Intentions 457
    The Attack 460
    The American Reactions 465
Encirclement and the Drive to the Seine
XXV. Encirclement 479
    Envelopment from the North 479
    The German Dilemma 481
    The Battle at Mortain 486
    Concepts of Encirclement 492
    Envelopment from the South 497
XXVI. The Argentan-Falaise Pocket 506
    Bradley's Decision 506
    The Canadians at Falaise 509
    The German Decision to Withdraw 510
    The German Decision to Withdraw 515
    The Allied Decision to Close the Pocket 523
XXVII. Closing the Pocket 528
    The Beginning of the End 528
    Enter Model, Exit Kluge 532
    The Pocket Closed 537
    The German Breakout 542
    Escape 547
    The Results 556
XXVIII. The Drive to the Seine 559
    South to the Loire 559
    The Drive to the East 563
    To the Seine and Across 572
    The Second Encirclement Attempt 575
    Through the Paris-Orléans Gap 583
XXIX. The Liberation of Paris 590
    Allied Plans 590
    German Hopes 591
    French Aims 594
    The Critical Days 595
    The French Point of View 598
    Eisenhower's Decision 602
    On to Paris 606
    The Liberation 610
    The Aftermath 618
XXX. The Battle for Brest 631
    The Post-OVERLORD Decision 631
    The Problems at Brest 634
    The Fight for Brest 640
    The Best Laid Plans 655
XXXI. The Drive Beyond the Seine 657
    The Framework of the Pursuit 657
    Patton's Advance to the Meuse 664
    The Main Effort 670
XXXII. Toward the Heart of Germany 676
    The Mons Pocket 676
    Broad Front versus Narrow 684
    The Nature of the Pursuit 688
    To the West Wall 692
    The End of the Line 696
A. Table of Equivalent Ranks 703
B. Recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross 704
Bibliographical Note 707
Basic Military Map Symbols  
Index 723
1. The Bocage Country 7
2. Order of Battle OB WEST, 2 July 1944 61
3. Attack of VIII Corps, 3-7 July 1944 137
4. Attack of VIII Corps, 4-7 July 1944 169
5. Attack of XIX Corps West of the Vire River, 7-10 July 1944 227
6. Battle for Caen, 8-9 July 1944 232
7. Panzer Lehr Attack, 11 July 1944 315
8. Attack on Hill 192, 11 July 1944 150
9. Attack of Second British Army, 18-21 July 1944 190
10. Operation COBRA, VII Corps Plan, 20 July 1944 216
11. Reduction of St. Malo, 4-17 August 1944 395
12. XV Corps, 208 August 1944 426
13. First U.S. Army, 1-6 August 1944 445
14. 12th Army Group Plan, 8 August 1944 493
15. Normandy Front, 7-11 August 1944 496
16. XV Corps, 9-13 August, 1944 498
17. Argentan-Falaise Pocket, 12-16 August 1944 512
18. Into the City, 25 August 616
  Maps I-XLIII are in Inverse Order Inside Back Cover  
I. Normandy Front, 2 July 1944
II. First Army Front West of the Vire River, 8-15 July 1944
III. The Battle of St Lo, 11-18 July 1944
IV. German Troop Disposition, Night 24-25 July 1944
V. Breakthrough, 25-27 July 1944
VI. Enlarging the Breach, 28-29 July 1944
VII. Exploitation, 30-31 July 1944
VIII. Breakout into Brittany, 1-12 August 1944
IX. Regrouping of German Forces, 1-6 August 1944
X. German Counterattack at Mortain, 7 August 1944
XI. Closing the Argentan-Falaise Pocket, 17-19 August 1944
XII. Drive to the Seine, 16-25 August 1944
XIII. Liberation of Paris, 23-25 August 1944
XIV. Battle for Brest, 25 August-18 September 1944
XV. Pursuit to the German Border, 26 August-10 September 1944
Typical Cotentin Terrain 5
General Dwight D. Eisenhower 7
General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery 8
Hedgerow Position in the Cotentin 13
Adolf Hitler 18
Generaloberst Alfred Jodl 19
Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel 22
Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt 23
Generaloberst Paul Hausser 46
Generalfeldmarschall Guenther von Kluge 47
La Haye-du-Puits 56
Maj. Gen. Charles H. Corlett 92
Stone Bridge at Airel 98
German Bicycle Brigade 103
Congestion at Airel Bridge 108
British Troops in Caen 123
Shelled Church in Sainteny 132
German Panther Tanks 139
St. Lô 147
Martinville Ridge 155
Sunken Road Near Carillon 160
German HedgerowPostion 161
After Securing Hill 122 165
Infantrymen in St. Lô 170
Ruins of St. Lô 171
Symbol of St. Lô 173
Lt. Gen. Miles C. Dempsey 188
Advancing Toward St. Germain 202
Rhino Tank with Hedgerow Cutter 206
Advancing Toward Périers-St. Lô Road 230
155-mm Howitzer 232
Waiting for the COBRA Bombardment 234
After the COBRA Bombardment 235
9th Division Troops After COBRA Bombardment 237
Troops Rolling Through Canisy 255
Engineers Clearing Mines in Lessay. 268
Wrecked German Armor Near Roncey 278
Tessy-sur-Vire 293
Knocked-out American Tanks 312
Abandoned German Equipment 320
Destroyed Enemy Vehicles in Avranches 321
General Bradley with Lt. Gens. Courtney H. Hodges and George S. Patton, Jr. 348
Pontaubault Bridge 371
Beach at Dinard 401
Artillerymen Firing 3-inch Gun 404
Street Fighting in St. Malo 405
The Citadel, St. Malo 410
Interior of the Citadel 411
Bombing of Ile de Cèzembre 412
St. Malo Prisoners 414
Maj. Gen. Wade H. Haislip 424
Maj. Gen. Manton S. Eddy 425
Troops Advancing Frm Juvigny 446
Clearing Operations in Vire 453
Artillery Observation Post 459
North of Mortain 468
Scurrying Along Hedgerow 487
Antiaircraft Postion Near St. Hilaire 488
Through the Rubble of Mortain 489
Wrecked German Armor, Sourdeval Area 491
Mamers 501
Signal Corps Troops in Domfront 518
Le Bourg-St. Léonard 526
Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model 531
Generl der Fallschirmtruppen Eugen Meindl 539
A Polish Soldier 542
Truckloads of Prisoners 554
The Pocket Deserted 556
11th Infantrymen 560
Maj. Gens. Walton H. Walker and Lindsay McD. Silvester 569
Armored Bivouac Area 571
German Removing Boobytrap 573
Ferrying Jeeps Across the Seine 585
Advancing Under Fire Toward Fontainebleau 587
Allied Airlift, Paris 605
Maj. Gen. Jacques Philippe Leclerc 611
French Soldiers Attack Toward Châteaufort 612
In the Rue de Rivoli 617
General von Choltitz and High-Ranking German Prisoners 619
General Charles de Gaulle 621
French Resistance Fighters 623
Parisian's Welcome to General de Gaulle 627
Supllies for Brest 637
Ancient Wall and Moat, Brest 639
Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton 640
2d Division Troops Near Brest 645
Gun Crew Firing 646
Troops Fighting in Brest 647
Remains of Fort Keranroux 648
Fort Montbarey 649
Generalmajor Hans von der Mosel 650
Generalleutnant Herman B. Ramcke 651
Drydock Destruction at Brest 654
Demolished Bridge at Châlons-sur-Marne 665
Liberated 689
Dragon's Teeth, the Siegfried Line 698
Illustrations are from the Department of Defense files.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation