ON THE morning of June 7, Lieutenant Wray's foray had broken up the German counterattack into Ste. Mere-Eglise before it got started. But by noon the Germans were dropping mortar shells on the town. That afternoon E Company, 505th PIR, moved out to drive the Germans further back. Those who participated included Sergeant Otis Sampson, an old cavalry soldier with ten years in the army, by reputation the best mortarman in the division; Lieutenant James Coyle, a platoon leader in the 505th; and Lieutenant Frank Woosely, a company executive officer.
The company had two tanks attached to it. Coyle's order was to take his platoon across the field and attack the hedgerow ahead, simple and straightforward enough. But Coyle explained to his CO that the Germans dug into and hid behind the hedgerows, and they would exact a bloody price from infantry advancing through a field, no matter how good the men were at fire and movement.
Coyle received permission to explore alternative routes. Sure enough, he found a route through the sunken lanes that brought the Americans to a point where they were looking down a lane running perpendicular to the one they were on. It was the main German position, inexplicably without cover or observation posts on its flank.
The German battalion had only arrived at the position a quarter of an hour earlier (which may explain the unguarded flank) but already had transformed the lane into a fortress. Communication wires ran up and down. Mortar crews worked their weapons. Sergeants with binoculars peered through openings cut in the hedge, directing the mortar fire. Other forward observers had radios and were directing the firing of heavy artillery from the rear. German heavy machine guns were tunnelled in, with crews at the ready to send crisscrossing fire into the field in front.
That was the staggering firepower Coyle's platoon would have run into had he obeyed his original orders. Because he had successfully argued his point, he was now on the German flank with his men and tanks behind him. The men laid down a base of rifle and machine-gun fire, aided by a barrage of mortars from Sergeant Sampson. Then the tanks shot their 75-mm cannon down the lane.
Germans fell all around. The survivors waved a white flag. Coyle told his men to cease fire, stood up, and walked down the lane to take the surrender. Two grenades came flying over the hedgerow and landed at his feet. He dove to the side and escaped, and the firing opened up again.
The Americans had the Germans trapped in the lane, and after a period of taking casualties without being able to inflict any, the German soldiers began to take off, bursting through the hedgerow with hands held high, crying "Kamerad!"
Soon there were 200 or so men in the field, hands up. Coyle went through the hedgerow to begin the rounding-up process and promptly got hit in the thigh by a sniper's bullet-not badly, but he was furious with himself for twice not being cautious enough. Nevertheless, he got the POWs gathered in and put under guard. He and his men had effectively destroyed an enemy battalion without losing a single man.
It was difficult finding enough men for guard duty, as there was only one GI for every ten captured Germans. The guards therefore took no chances. Corporal Sam Applebee encountered a German officer who refused to move. "I took a bayonet and shoved it into his ass," Applebee recounted, "and then he moved. You should have seen the happy smiles and giggles that escaped the faces of some of the prisoners, to see their Lord and Master made to obey, especially from an enlisted man."
E COMPANY'S experience on June 7 was unique, or nearly so-an unguarded German flank was seldom again to be found. But in another way, what the company went through was to be repeated across Normandy in the weeks that followed. In the German army, slave troops from conquered Central and Eastern Europe and Asia would throw their hands up at the first opportunity, but if they misjudged their situation and their NCO was around, they were likely to get shot in the back. Or the NCOs would keep up the fight even as their enlisted men surrendered.
Lieutenant Leon Mendel, with military intelligence, interrogated the prisoners Coyle's platoon had taken. "I started off with German," Mendel remembered, "but got no response, so I switched to Russian, asked if they were Russian. 'Yes!' they responded, heads bobbing eagerly. 'We are Russian. We want to go to America!'"
"Me too!" Mendel said in Russian. "Me too!"
The Wehrmacht in Normandy in June of 1944 was an international army. It had troops from every corner of the vast Soviet Empire-Mongolians, Cossacks, Georgians, Muslims, Chinese-plus men from the Soviet Union's neighbouring countries, men who had been conscripted into the Red Army, then captured by the Germans. In Normandy in June 1944 the 29th Division captured enemy troops of so many different nationalities that one GI blurted to his company commander, "Captain, just who the hell are we fighting, anyway?"
By no means were all the German personnel in Normandy reluctant warriors. Many fought effectively; some fought magnificently. The 3rd Fallschirmjdger Division was a full-strength division-15,976 men, mostly young German volunteers. It was new to combat, but training had been rigorous and emphasized initiative and improvisation. The equipment was outstanding.
Indeed, the Fallschirmjdger were perhaps the best-armed infantrymen in the world in 1944. So in any encounter between equal numbers of Americans and Fallschirmjagers, the Germans had from six to twenty times as much firepower.
And these German soldiers were ready to fight. A battalion commander in the 29th remarked, "Those Germans are the best soldiers I ever saw. They're smart and don't know what the word 'fear' means. They come in and they keep coming until they get their job done or you kill 'em."
These were the men who had to be rooted out of the hedgerows. One by one. There were, on average, fourteen hedgerows to the kilometre in Normandy. The enervating, costly process of making the attack, carrying the attack home, mopping up afterwards, took half a day or more. And at the end of the action there was the next hedgerow, 50 metres away. All through the Cotentin Peninsula, from June 7 on, GIs heaved and pushed and punched and died doing it-for two hedgerows a day. It was like fighting in a maze. Platoons found themselves completely lost a few minutes after launching an attack. Squads got separated. Just as often, two platoons from the same company could occupy adjacent fields for hours before discovering each other's presence.
Where the Americans got lost, the Germans were at home. The German 352nd Division had been training in Normandy for months. Further, they were geniuses at utilizing the fortification possibilities of the hedgerows. In the early days of battle many GIs were killed or wounded because they dashed through the opening into a field, just the kind of aggressive tactics they had been taught, only to be cut down by pre-sited machine-gun fire or mortars (mortars caused three quarters of American casualties in Normandy).
American army tactical manuals stressed the need for tank-infantry cooperation. But in Normandy the tankers didn't want to get down on the sunken roads, because of insufficient room to traverse the turret and insufficient visibility. But staying on the main roads proved impossible: the Germans held the high ground inland and had their 88-mm cannon sited to provide long fields of fire along highways. So into the lanes the tanks went. There they were restricted. They wanted to get out into the fields, but they couldn't. When they appeared at the gap leading into a field, mortar fire, plus panzerfausts (handheld antitank weapons), disabled them-often, in fact, caused them to "brew up," or start burning. The tanks had a distressing propensity for catching fire.
So tankers tried going over or through the embankments, but the hedgerows were almost impassable obstacles to the American M-4
Sher-man tank. The Sherman wasn't powerful enough to break through the cementlike base, and when it climbed up the embankment, at the apex it exposed its unarmoured belly to German panzer fausts. Further, coordination between tankers and infantry was almost impossible during battle, as they had no easy or reliable way to communicate with one another.
Lieutenant Sidney Salomon of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, one of the DDay heroes, found that out on June 7. He was leading the remnants of his battalion, which had come ashore at Omaha and been involved in a daylong firefight on D-Day, westward along the coastal road that led to Pointe-du-Hoc. Three companies of the 2nd Rangers had taken the German emplacement there and destroyed the coastal guns, but they were under severe attack and had taken severe casualties. Salomon was in a hurry to get to them.
But his column began taking well-placed artillery shells. Salomon could see a Norman church, its steeple the only high point around. He was certain the Germans had an observer spotting for their artillery in that steeple. Behind Salomon a Sherman tank chugged up. Salomon wanted it to blast that steeple, but he couldn't get the crew's attention, not even when he knocked on the side of the tank with the butt of his carbine. "So I ultimately stood in the middle of the road directly in front of the tank, waving my arms and pointing in the direction of the church. That produced results. After a couple of shots from the cannon and several bursts from the .50-calibre machine gun, the artillery spotter was no more."
Salomon's daring feat notwithstanding, it was obvious that the army was going to have to work out a better system for tank-infantry communication than having junior officers jump up and down in front of tanks. Until that was done, the tanks would play a minor supporting role to the infantry-following the GIs into the next field as the infantry overran it. So as the infantry lurched forward in the Cotentin, following frontal assaults straight into the enemy's kill zones, the tankers began experimenting with ways to utilize their weapons in the hedgerows.
BEGINNING AT daylight on June 7, each side had begun to rush reinforcements to the front. The Americans came in on a tight schedule, long since worked out, with fresh divisions almost daily. The Germans came in by bits and pieces because they were improvising, having been caught with no plans for reinforcing Normandy. Further, the Allied air forces had badly hampered German movement from the start.
The German air force (the Luftwaffe) and the German navy were seldom to be seen, but still the Germans managed to have an effect on Allied landings through mines and beach obstacles. The most spectacular German success came at dawn on June 7.
The transport USS Susan B. Anthony was moving into her off-loading position off Utah Beach. Sergeant Jim Finn was down in the hold, along with hundreds of others in the 90th Infantry Division, set to enter the battle after the ship dropped anchor. Landing craft began coming alongside, and the men started climbing up onto the transport's deck, preparing to descend the rope ladders. Finn and the others were loaded down with rifles, grenades, extra clips, BARs (Browning automatic rifles), tripods, mortar bases and tubes, gas masks, leather boots, helmets, life jackets, toilet articles, baggy pants stuffed with cigarettes, and more.
"There was a massive 'boom!'" Finn recalled. "She shook. All communications were knocked out. All electricity was out. Everything on the ship went black."
The Susan B. Anthony, one of the largest transport ships, had hit a mine. She was sinking and burning. Panic in the hold was to be expected, but as Finn recalled, the officers took charge and restored calm. Then, "We were instructed to remove our helmets, remove our impregnated clothing, remove all excess equipment. Many of the fellows took off their shoes." They scrambled onto the deck.
A fire-fighting boat had pulled alongside and was putting streams of water onto the fire. Landing craft began pulling to the side of the ship. Men threw rope ladders over the side, and within two hours all hands were safely off-minutes before the ship sank.
Sergeant Finn and his platoon went into Utah Beach a couple of hours late and barefoot, with no helmets, no rifles, no ammo, no food. But they were there, and by scrounging along the beach they were soon able to equip themselves from dead and wounded men. Thanks to the firefighting boat-one of the many specialized craft in the armada-even the loss of the ship hardly slowed the disembarking process. The US, Royal, and Canadian navies ruled the English Channel, which made the uninterrupted flow of men and supplies from England to France possible. The fire-fighting boat that saved the men on Susan B. Anthony showed what a superb job the three navies were doing.
AT OMAHA, too, reinforcements began coming into the beach before the sun rose. Twenty-year-old Lieutenant Charles Stockell, a forward observer (FO) in the 1st Division, was one of the first ashore that day. Stockell kept a diary. He recorded that he came in below Vierville, that the skipper of the LCI (landing craft infantry) feared the underwater beach obstacles and mines and thus forced him to get off in chest-deep water, that he saw equipment littering the beach, and then: "The first dead Americans I see are two GIs, one with both feet blown off, arms wrapped about each other in a comradely death embrace." He was struck by the thought that "dead men everywhere look pathetic and lonely."
Stockell didn't get very far inland that morning. The front line, in fact, was less than a quarter of a mile from the edge of the bluff at Omaha, along a series of hedgerows outside Colleville. That was as far inland as Captain Joseph Dawson, CO of G Company, 16th Regiment, 1st Division, had got on D-Day-and Dawson had been the first American to reach the top of the bluff. On June 7 he was fighting to secure his position outside Colleville, discovering in the process that he had a whole lot to learn about hedgerows.
The 175th Regiment of the 29th Division came in on schedule at 0630, June 7, but two kilometres east of its intended target, the Vierville exit through the Atlantic Wall. In a loose formation the regiment began to march to the exit, through the debris of the previous day's battle. To . Captain Robert Miller the beach "looked like something out of Dante's Inferno."
Continual sniper fire zinged down. "But even worse," according to Lieutenant J. Milnor Roberts, an aide to the corps commander, "they were stepping over the bodies of the guys who had been killed the day before and the guys were wearing that 29th Division patch; the other fellows, brand-new, were walking over the dead bodies. By the time they got down where they were to go inland, they were really spooked."
But so were their opponents. Lieutenant Colonel Fritz Ziegelmann of the 352nd Division was one of the first German officers to bring reinforcements into the battle. At about the same time the American 175th Regiment was swinging up towards Vierville, Ziegelmann was entering Widerstandsnest 76, one of the few surviving resistance nests on Omaha. "The view from WN 76 will remain in my memory for ever," he wrote after the war. "Ships of all sorts stood close together on the beach and in the water, broadly echeloned in depth. And the entire conglomeration remained there intact without any real interference from the German side!"
A runner brought him a set of secret American orders captured from an officer, which showed the entire Omaha invasion plan. "I must say that in my entire military life, I have never been so impressed," Ziegelmann wrote, adding that he knew at that moment that Germany was going to lose this war.
AT DAWN, all along the plateau above the bluff at Omaha, GIs shook themselves awake, did their business, ate some rations, smoked cigarettes, got into some kind of formation, and prepared to move out to broaden the beachhead. But in the hedgerows, individuals got lost, squads got lost. German sniper fire came from all directions. The Norman farm homes and barns, made of stone and surrounded by stone walls, made excellent fortresses. Probing attacks brought forth a stream of bullets from the Germans.
Brigadier General Norman "Dutch" Cota, assistant division commander of the 29th, came upon a group of infantry pinned down by some Germans in a farmhouse. He asked the captain in command why his men were making no effort to take the building.
"Sir, the Germans are in there, shooting at us," the captain replied.
"Well, I'll tell you what, Captain," said Cota, unbuckling two grenades from his jacket. "You and your men start shooting at them. I'll take a squad of men, and you and your men watch carefully. I'll show you how to take a house with Germans in it."
Cota led his squad around a hedge to get as close as possible to the house. Suddenly he gave a whoop and raced forward, the squad following, yelling like wild men. As they tossed grenades into the windows, Cota and another man kicked in the front door, tossed a couple of grenades inside, waited for the explosions, then dashed into the house. The surviving Germans inside were streaming out the back door, running for their lives.
Cota returned to the captain. "You've seen how to take a house," said the general, out of breath. "Do you understand? Do you know how to do it now?"
"Well, I won't be around to do it for you again," Cota said. "I can't do it for everybody."
Normandy was a soldier's battle. It belonged to the riflemen, machine gunners, mortarmen, tankers, and artillerymen who were on the front lines. There was no room for manoeuvre. There was no opportunity for subtlety. There was a simplicity to the fighting-for the Germans, to hold; for the Americans, to attack.
Where they would hold or attack required no decision-making. It was 'always the next village or field. The real decision making came at the battalion, company, and platoon level: where to place mines, barbed wire, machine-gun pits, where to dig foxholes-or where and how to attack them.
The direction of the attack had been set by preinvasion decision-making. For the 1st and 29th divisions that meant south from Omaha towards St. Lo. For the 101st Airborne that meant east, into Carentan, for a linkup with Omaha. For the 82nd Airborne that meant west from Ste. MereEglise, to provide manoeuvre room in the Cotentin. For the 4th and 90th divisions that meant west from Utah, to the Gulf of St. Malo.
The objective of all this was to secure the port of Cherbourg and to create a beachhead sufficiently large to absorb the incoming American reinforcements and serve as a base for an offensive through France. So strong a magnet was Cherbourg that the initial American offensive already in Normandy headed west, away from Germany.
Eisenhower and his high command were obsessed with ports. Only a large, fully operating port could satisfy supply needs, or so Eisenhower assumed. Therefore the planning emphasis had been on Cherbourg, and Le Havre next, with the climax coming at Antwerp. Only with these ports in operation could Eisenhower be assured of the supplies a final fifty-division offensive into Germany would require. Especially Antwerp.
The Germans assumed that the Allies could not supply divisions in combat over an open beach. The Allies tended to agree. Experience had not been encouraging. Churchill was so certain it couldn't be done he insisted on putting a very large share of the national effort into building two experimental artificial harbours. The harbours were moderately successful: their contribution to the total tonnage unloaded over the Normandy beaches was about fifteen per cent.
But as it turned out, it was the LSTs (landing ship tank), supported by the myriad of specialized landing craft, that did the most carrying and unloading LSTs at every beach, their great jaws yawning open, disgorging tanks and trucks and jeeps and bulldozers and guns and mountains of rations and ammunition, thousands of jerry cans filled with gasoline, crates of radios and telephones, typewriters, and forms, and all else that men at war require. The LSTs did what no one had thought possible. The LST was in fact the Allies' secret weapon.
Through June the Germans continued in the face of all evidence to believe LSTs could not supply the Allied divisions already ashore, and therefore Operation Overlord was a feint, with the real attack scheduled for the Pas-de-Calais later in the summer. A continuing campaign of misinformation put out by SHAEF reinforced this German fixed idea. So through the month, Hitler kept his panzer divisions north and east of the Seine River.
Hitler had recognized that his only hope for victory lay on the Western Front. His armies could not defeat the Red Army, but they might defeat the British and Americans, so discouraging Stalin that he would make a settlement. But after correctly seeing the critical theatre, Hitler completely failed to see the critical battlefield. He continued to look to the Pas-de-Calais as the site where he would drive the invaders back into the sea, and consequently kept his main striking power there. To every plea by the commanders in Normandy for panzer divisions in northwestern France to come to their aid, Hitler said no. In so saying, he sealed his fate. He suffered the worst humiliation of all-he had been outwitted.
THE MISSION of the 101st Airborne Division was to take Carentan and thus link Omaha and Utah into a continuous beachhead. One of the critical actions was led by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cole, CO of the 3rd Battalion, 502nd PIR. Cole was 29, an army brat, and a 1939 West Point graduate, born and trained to lead. On D-Day he had gathered up seventy-five men, moved out to Utah Beach, and was at the dune line to welcome men from the 4th Division coming ashore. From June 7 on he had been involved in the attack on Carentan. The climax came on June 11.
Cole was leading some 250 men down a long, exposed causeway. At the far end was a bridge over the Douve River. Beyond that bridge was the linkup point with units from the 29th coming from Omaha. The causeway was a metre or so above the marshes on either side. On the far side of the inland marsh, about 150 metres away, there was a hedgerow occupied by the Germans.
Once Cole was fully committed along the causeway, the German machine guns, rifles, and mortars along the hedgerow opened fire. Cole's battalion took a couple of dozen casualties. The survivors huddled against the bank on the far side of the causeway.
They should have kept moving. But the hardest lesson to teach in training, the most difficult rule to follow in combat, is to keep moving when fired on. Every instinct makes a soldier want to hug the ground. Cole's men did, and over the next hour the Germans dropped mortars on the battalion. The GIs were pinned down.
Then Cole could take no more and took command. He passed out an order seldom heard in World War II: "Fix bayonets!"
Up and down the line he could hear the click of bayonets being fitted to rifle barrels. Cole's pulse was racing. He pulled his .45 pistol, jumped onto the causeway, shouted a command so loud he could be heard above the din of the battle-"Charge!"-turned towards the hedgerow, and began plunging through the marsh.
His men watched, fearful, excited, impressed, inspired. First, single figures rose and began to follow Cole. Then small groups of two and three. 'Then whole squads started running forward, flashing the cold steel of their bayonets. The men began to roar as they charged, their own version of the Rebel Yell.
The Germans fired and cut down some, but not enough. Cole's men got to the hedgerow, plunged into the dugouts and trenches, thrusting, drawing blood and screams, causing death. Those Germans who dodged the bayonets fled to the rear. Paratroopers took them under fire and dropped a dozen or more.
Cole stood there shaking, exhausted, elated. Around him the men began to cheer. After the cheering subsided. Cole got his men down the causeway and over the bridge to the far side of the Douve River. There, the following day, Omaha and Utah linked up.
THROUGHOUT First Army, young men made many discoveries in the first few days of combat-about war, about themselves, about others. They quickly learned such basics as keep down or die, to dig deep and stay quiet, to distinguish incoming from outgoing artillery, to recognize that fear is inevitable but can be managed, and many more things they had been told in training but things that can only be truly learned by doing-in the reality of combat.
Captain John Colby caught one of the essences of combat, the sense of total immediacy: "At this point we had been in combat six days. It seemed like a year. In combat, one lives in the now and does not think much about yesterday or tomorrow."
Colby discovered that there was no telling who would break or when. His battalion commander had run away from combat in his first day of action, and his company CO was a complete bust. On June 12 the company got caught in a combined mortar-artillery barrage. The men couldn't move forward, they couldn't fall back, and they couldn't stay where they were-or so it appeared to the CO, who therefore had no order to give and was speechless.
Colby went up to him to ask for orders. The CO shook his head and pointed to his throat. Colby asked him if he could make it back to the aid station on his own, "and he leapt to his feet and took off. I never saw him again."
Another thing Colby learned in his first week in combat was "Artillery does not fire for ever. It just seems like that when you get caught in it. The guns overheat or the ammunition runs low, and it stops. It stops for a while, anyway."
He was amazed to discover how small he could make his body. If you get caught in the open in a shelling, he advised, "the best thing to do is drop to the ground and crawl into your steel helmet. One's body tends to shrink a great deal when shells come in. I am sure I have gotten as much as eighty per cent of my body under my helmet when caught under shellfire."
About themselves, the most important thing a majority of the GIs discovered was that they were not cowards. They hadn't thought so, they had fervently hoped it would not be so, but they couldn't be sure until tested.
After a few days in combat most of them knew they were good soldiers. They had neither run away nor collapsed into a pathetic mass of quivering jelly (their worst fear, even greater than the fear of being afraid).
They were learning about others. A common experience: the guy who talked toughest, bragged most, excelled in manoeuvres, everyone's pick to be the top soldier in the company, was the first to break, while the soft-talking kid who was hardly noticed in camp was the standout in combat. These are the cliches of war novels precisely because they are true. They also learned that while combat brought out the best in some men, it unleashed the worst in others-and the distinction wasn't always clear.
On June 9 Sergeant Arthur "Dutch" Schultz of the 82nd Airborne was outside Montebourg. That morning he was part of an attack on the town. "I ran by a wounded German soldier lying alongside of a hedgerow. He was obviously in a great deal of pain and crying for help. I stopped running and turned around. A close friend of mine put the muzzle of his rifle between the German's still crying eyes and pulled the trigger. There was no change in my friend's facial expression. I don't believe he even blinked an eye."
Schultz was simultaneously appalled and awed by what he had seen.
"There was a part of me that wanted to be just as ruthless as my friend," he commented. Later Schultz came to realize that "there but for the grace of God go I."
ALLIED FIGHTER pilots owned the skies over Normandy. On June 7
Eisenhower crossed the Channel by plane to visit Bayeux. Every aeroplane in the sky was American or British.
Thanks to air supremacy the Americans were flying little single-seat planes, Piper Cubs, about 300 metres back from the front lines and some 300 metres high. German riflemen fired at them ineffectively. When the Cubs appeared, however, German mortar and artillery firing stopped. As Sergeant Sampson described it, "They didn't dare give their positions away, knowing if they fired our pilot would call in and artillery would be coming in on them, pinpoint."
Air supremacy also freed Allied fighter-bombers, principally P-47 Thunderbolts, to strafe and bomb German convoys and concentrations. From D-Day plus one onward, whenever the weather was suitable for flying, the P-47s forced nighttime movement only on the Germans. During the day the Allied Jabos (from the German Jager bomber, or hunter bomber) would get them. Fifty years later, in talking about the Jabos, German veterans still have awe in their voices and glance up over their shoulders as they recall the terror of having one come right at them, all guns blazing. "The Jabos were a burden on our souls," Corporal Helmut Hesse said.
The B-26 Marauders, two-engine bombers, continued their all-out assault on choke points in the German transportation system, principally bridges and highway junctions. Lieutenant James Delong was a Marauder pilot with the Ninth Air Force who had flown in low and hard on D-Day over Utah Beach. On June 7 it was a bridge at Rennes. "We were being met with plenty of flak from enemy 88s," Delong recalled.
"That whomp! whomp! sound just outside with black smoke puffs filling the air was still scary as hell, damaging, and deadly." But there were no Luftwaffe fighters. Most German pilots were on the far side of the Rhine River, trying to defend the homeland from the Allied fourengine bombers, and the Luftwaffe was chronically short on fuel.
In Normandy in June 1944 German soldiers became experts in camouflage to make themselves invisible from the sky, while the GIs laid out coloured panels and did all they could to make themselves plainly visible from the sky. They wanted any aeroplane up there to know that they were Americans, because they knew without having to look that the plane they heard was American.
German general Fritz Bayerlein of the 12th SS Panzer Division gave an account of how the Jabos worked over his division on June 7: "It was terrible. By the end of the day I had lost forty tank trucks carrying fuel, and ninety other vehicles. Five of my tanks were knocked out, and eighty-four half-tracks, prime movers and self-propelled guns." Those were heavy losses, especially for a panzer division that had so far not fired a shot.
The Jabos had a decisive effect on the Battle of Normandy. Without them the Germans would have been able to move reinforcements into Normandy at a better rate than they actually achieved. But air power alone could not be decisive. The Germans in Normandy were dug in well enough to survive strafing, rocket, and bombing attacks. They could move enough men, vehicles, and materiel at night to keep on fighting along the leaf-covered sunken lanes. The frequently foul weather gave them further respite. Low clouds, drizzle, fog-for the Germans, ideal weather to reposition units, and there were more of those days than there were clear ones.
OVER THE first ten days of the battle the Germans fought so well that the Allies measured their gains in metres. By June 16 the euphoria produced by the D-Day success was giving way to fears that the Germans were imposing a stalemate in Normandy. These fears led to blame-assignment and recriminations among the Allies.
The difficulty centred around the taking of Caen. Field Marshal Montgomery had said he would take the city on D-Day, but he had not, nor did he do so in the following ten days. Nor was he attacking. The British Second Army had drawn the bulk of the panzers in Normandy to its front. It was at Caen that the Germans were most vulnerable, because a breakthrough there would put British tanks on a straight road, through rolling terrain with open fields, headed directly for Paris. Therefore the fighting north of Caen was fierce and costly, but there was no all-out British attack.
The Americans, frustrated by their glacial progress in the hedgerows, were increasingly critical of Montgomery. Monty sent it right back. He blamed General Omar Bradley, commanding US First Army, for Allied problems, saying that the Americans should have attacked both north towards Cherbourg and south towards Coutances, "but Bradley didn't want to take the risk."
At the top, through June, the Allied high command squabbled. At the front the soldiers fought through to Cherbourg on the twentieth. It took a week of hard fighting to force a surrender on the 27th, and even then the Germans left the port facilities so badly damaged that it took the engineers six weeks to get them functioning. Meanwhile, supplies continued to come in via LSTs.
With Cherbourg captured, Bradley was able to turn US First Army in a continuous line facing south. St. Lo and Coutances were the objectives of this second phase of the Battle of Normandy. To get them, the GIs had a lot of hedgerows to cross.
THE US First Army was growing to its full potential in Normandy. By June 30 the Americans had eleven divisions in the battle, plus the 82nd and 101st Airborne, which were to have been withdrawn to England but which were retained on the Continent through June. The British Second Army also had thirteen divisions ashore.
The Americans had evacuated 27,000 casualties. About 11,000 GIs had been killed in action or died of their wounds, 1,000 were missing in action, and 3,400 wounded had been returned to duty. The active-duty strength of First Army was 413,000. German strength on the front was somewhat less, while German losses were 47,500.
In most cases the GIs were much better equipped than their foe. Some German weapons were superior; others inferior. In transport and utility vehicles the US was far ahead in both quality and quantity. The Germans could not compete with the American two-and-a-half-ton truck (deuce-and-a-half) or the jeep (the Germans loved to capture working jeeps but complained that they were gas guzzlers). German factories making their Vehicles were a few hundred kilometres from Normandy. Their American counterparts were thousands of kilometres from Normandy. Yet the Americans got more and better vehicles to the battlefront in less time.
The Americans were on the offensive in Italy and in the Pacific and were conducting a major air offensive inside Germany. But the Germans were fighting on four fronts, the eastern, western, southern, and home. They could not possibly win a war of attrition.
The senior German commanders in the West, Field Marshals Gerd Rundstedt and Erwin Rommel, were perfectly aware of that fact. Having failed to stop the Allied assault on the beaches, having failed to prevent a linkup of the invasion forces, completely lacking any air support, and chronically short on fuel sometimes of ammunition-taking heavy casualties, they despaired. On June 28 the two field marshals set off for Hitler's headquarters in Berchtesgaden. On the drive they talked. Rundstedt had already told Hitler's lackeys to "make peace." Now he said the same to Rommel.
"I agree with you," Rommel replied. "The war must be ended immediately. I shall tell the Ftihrer so clearly and unequivocally."
The showdown with Hitler came at a full-dress conference of the top echelon of the high command: Field Marshals Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodi, and Hermann Goring, along with Admiral Karl Donitz and many lesser lights. Rommel spoke first. He said the moment was critical. He told his Ftihrer, "The whole world stands arrayed against Germany, and this disproportion of strength-"
Hitler cut him off. Would the Herr Feldmarschall please concern himself with the military, not the political situation. Rommel then gave a most gloomy report.
Hitler took over. He said the critical task was to halt the enemy offensive. This would be accomplished by the Luftwaffe, he declared. He announced that 1,000 new fighters were coming out of the factories and would be in Normandy shortly. He talked about new secret weapons-the V-2s-that would turn the tide. The Allied communications between Britain and Normandy would be cut by the Kriegsmarine, which would soon be adding a large number of torpedo boats to lay mines in the Channel, and new submarines to operate off the beaches. Large convoys of new trucks' would soon be headed west from the Rhine towards Normandy.
This was pure fantasy. Hitler was clearly crazy. The German high command knew it, without question, and should have called for the men with the straitjacket. But nothing was done.
NUMBERS OF units and qualities and quantities of equipment helped make victory possible for the Americans, but out in the hedgerows those advantages weren't always apparent. Besides, all those American vehicles would be idle until the GIs managed to break out of the hedgerows. And that rested on the wits, endurance, and execution of the tankers, artillery, and infantry at the front.