Durchbruch

 

 

Weiterhin beschränke ich mich auf die Operationen der 4th Infantry Division, die an der Befreiung von Paris beteiligt sein wird. Ich folge dabei wie zuvor einem Standardwerk:

Das Werk steht hier zur Einsicht und Lektüre zur Verfügung. Ich übersetze und kopiere nur jene Abschnitte, welche die Vierte betreffen.

 

 

[Die rote Diagonale ist die schnurgerade Strasse von Périers nach St-Lô, die den Amerikanern als LD (Line of Departure) = Angriffsgrundstellung der Operation Cobra diente. 1:50'000 - Gitterquadrat-Seitenlänge 1 km]

 

Auf dem Weg zur Strasse Périers-St-Lô.
Die Patrouille der 4. Division geht an Panzern vorbei, die auf den Befehl warten, aufzusitzen.

 

[Wesentliches Element der Durchbruchsstrategie sind die Überraschung und der initiale Schwung. Das Wetter störte die einleitenden Luftunterstützungen und das brachte - zusammen mit den Bombardementen der eigenen Truppen in der Armeeführung und an der Front Verwirrungen und Verzögerungen. Das VII. Korps hatte mit der 9. und der 30. Division vorne und der 4. Division ihnen folgend den Angriff der Operation Cobra einzuleiten. Die beiden erstgenannten Divisionen zogen ihre Leute mehrere hundert Meter nördlich der Angriffsgrundstellung Landstrasse Périers-St-Lô ab. Das Korps rückte auf diese Linie vor mit der ungewissen Aussicht, ob man jenseits der Autostrasse fortfahren würde. Der grosse Durchbruch war somit vorerst ein Objektangriff auf diese Strasse.]

 

Bombardment

(S. 228)

 

[Die Operation Cobra wechselte von der am deutschen Widerstand und wohl auch am Gelände gescheiterten Frontalangriffsstrategie zum Erzwingen eines konzentrierten Durchbruchs durch die hartnäckige deutsche Front. Das indizierte einleitende schwere Bombenangriffe aus der Luft auf das für den Durchbruch bestimmte Gelände. Wetter, technisches und taktisches Versagen, Ungeschicklichkeit und Unfähigkeit der Bomberbesatzungen etc. führten erwiesenermassen zu hohen Verlusten bei den eigenen Truppen, zu einer potenziellen Frühwarnung des Gegners und zu diskutablen Erfolgen. Davon handelt dieses Kapitel. Ich beschränke mich wiederum auf jene Passagen, die sich auf die Vierte beziehen.]

 

 

Eine halbe Stunde später erfuhr General Collins [der Korpskommandant], dass COBRA sowohl am Boden als auch in der Luft verschoben worden sei, aber um den Feind daran zu hindern, sich nördlich der Landstrasse Périers-St-Lô zu bewegen, sollten die drei Infanteriedivisionen um 13:00 [am 24. Juli] angreifen, als ob die Operation COBRA in Gang gesetzt worden sei. In Wirklichkeit sollten die Divisionen die Frontlinie wiederherstellen, die vor der [voreiligen, nur halbwegs kontrollierten] Bombardierung bestanden hatte. Hätte der unvollständige Luftangriff die Deutschen nicht vorgewarnt und die taktische Überraschung zerstört, mit der General Bradley so sehr gerechnet hatte, wäre die deutsche Hauptwiderstandslinie für einen weiteren COBRA-Einsatz am nächsten Tag unverändert geblieben. Bis zum geplanten Start von COBRA sollten jene Divisionen des VII. Korps, die ihre Truppen eingesetzt hatten, in verborgenen Biwaks bleiben.

 

Der gescheiterte Luftangriff am 24. Juli hatte die Deutschen offensichtlich auf den folgenden amerikanischen Bodenangriff aufmerksam gemacht. Das feindliche Artilleriefeuer setzte in grossem Umfang ein. Alle drei Angriffsdivisionen hatten an diesem Nachmittag eine schwere Zeit durchzustehen.

 

Auf der rechten Seite des Korps setzte die 9. Division ihre drei Regimenter ein: das 60. kämpfte gegen feindliche Truppen, die nach dem Rückzug infiltriert waren; ein verstärktes Bataillon des 47. Infanterieregiments kämpfte bis zur Dunkelheit, um eine einzige Hecke zu gewinnen; zwei Bataillone des 39. Infanterieregiments kämpften acht Stunden, um einen Stützpunkt auszuschalten und beklagte dann 77 Tote, darunter den Regimentskommandanten Oberst Harry A. Flint. Im Zentrum des Korps engagierte die 4. Division das 8. Infanterieregiment, das in einer Kolonne von Bataillonen mit Panzerunterstützung angriff; nach zwei Stunden schwerer Kämpfe und einem Verlust von 27 Toten und 70 Verletzten erreichte das Regiment einen Punkt 100 Meter nördlich der Autobahn. Auf der linken Seite des Korps kam die 30. Division nicht sofort voran, weil die Angriffselemente durch das Bombardement der eigenen Flieger betäubt und demoralisiert waren. Es dauerte fast eine Stunde, bis sich die Einheiten erholten und reorganisierten; bis dahin hatte das feindliche Artilleriefeuer nachgelassen. Die Division rückte dann vor und besetzte ihre ursprünglichen Linien wieder.

Die Frage, ob durch die vorzeitige Bombardierung die taktische Überraschung der Amerikaner verloren gegangen sei, sollte sofort geklärt werden: Die Alliierten starteten die Operation COBRA um 11.00 Uhr, am 25. Juli, erneut. Für die zweite COBRA-Bombardierung wurden mehrere Änderungen vorgenommen, um eine Wiederholung der Fehler zu vermeiden. Luftangriffsziele nördlich der Périers-St-Lô-Autostrasse - insgesamt sechs - wurden der Artillerie übertragen. Ein spezielles Wetteraufklärungsflugzeug sollte am frühen Morgen das Angriffsgebiet erkunden, um genaue atmosphärische Daten zu erhalten und um herauszufinden, ob die Sicht für die Bombardierung ausreichend sei. Die schweren Bomber sollten so tief fliegen, wie es die Sicherheit zuliesse, und, wenn möglich, visuell bombardieren.

In Erwartung des COBRA-Bombardements blicken Infanteristen des 8. Regiments himmelwärts.

 

Am Morgen des 25. Juli kamen die Flugzeuge wieder. In 12er Gruppen flogen über 1.500 

B-17 und B-24 heran und liessen mehr als 3.300 Tonnen Bomben im COBRA-Gebiet fallen. Mehr als 380 mittlere Bomber warfen über 650 Tonnen Sprengstoff- und Splitterbomben ab. In Vierergruppen warfen über 550 Jagdbomber mehr als 200 Tonnen Bomben und eine große Menge Napalm ab. Die Erde bebte.

 

Die Reichweiten (600 Meilen) der strategischen Bomberflotten, die von Foggia, Mildenhall und Alconbury starteten.

vergrössern/Quellen: links und rechts


 

Die Bombenabwurfhöhen waren um die 15.000 Fuss festgelegt worden, aber das Vorhandensein von Wolken erzwang eine Nachjustierung im Flug. Die meisten Bombenschützen mussten ihre Zahlen unterwegs neu berechnen. Einige Flugzeuge bombardierten aus der relativ niedrigen Höhe von 12.000 Fuss, was sie näher an das feindliche Flugabwehrfeuer heranführte und so die Belastung der Piloten erhöhte, die Flugformationen lockerte und die Gefahr von überfülltem Luftraum über dem Ziel erhöhte. Artillerie-Rauchmarkierungen erwiesen sich als wenig wertvoll, da sie erst dann sichtbar wurden, wenn der Rauch in grosse Höhen driftete und der Wind ihn zu diesem Zeitpunkt zerstreut und verdrängt hatte. Als der Angriff begann, verdeckten grosse Staub- und Rauchwolken nicht nur die Markierungen, sondern auch die Geländemerkpunkte. Ausserdem war der rote Rauch der Artilleriemarker kaum von Granaten- und Bombenexplosionen sowie vom Mündungsfeuer der amerikanischen und deutschen Artillerie zu unterscheiden. Weil es unmöglich war, die Bomber in der Formationen zu halten und weil die Besatzungsmitglieder von der Notwendigkeit beseelt waren, Kurzabwürfe [in die eigenen Truppen] zu vermeiden, landete ein Grossteil der Bomben südlich des Zielgebiets oder westlich und östlich davon. Einige Bomben fielen jedoch wieder nördlich der Landstrasse Périers-St-Lô und damit auf amerikanische Positionen.

Nach dem COBRA-Bombardement graben sich die Männer aus den "kurzen" [in die eigenen Reihen geratenen] Bombeneinschlägen aus.

 

Die Bomben fielen nördlich der Landstrasse wegen menschlichen Versagens. Der leitende Bombenschütze einer schweren Bomberformation hatte Probleme mit seinem Bombenzielgerät und wurde daher visuell mit schlechten Ergebnissen versorgt. Ein anderer identifizierte die Landmarken nicht richtig. Der Leitpilot einer dritten Formation warf vorzeitig Bomben ab und alle Flugzeuge seiner Einheit warfen darauf ihre Lasten auch ab. Splitterbomben und Sprengstoff von 35 schweren Bombern und die Bomben von 42 mittleren Bomberflugzeugen fielen innerhalb der amerikanischen Linien.

 

Dieses relativ leichte Bombardement nördlich der Strasse tötete 111 Mann der amerikanischen Truppen und verwundete 490. Ausserdem wurden einige Zuschauer, offizielle Beobachter und Zeitungsreporter getroffen. Generalleutnant Lesley J. McNair, kommandierender General der Army Ground Forces und ad interim Kommandant der 1st U.S. Army Group, wurde getötet.

[Die 4. US-Infanterie-Division verlor 37 Männer: 10 Getötete und 27 Verwundete. (Fussnote 32:

USSTAF In Europe, Report of Investigation, 14 Aug, USAF Hist Sec Files)]

 

 Als sich am 25. Juli die Nachricht vom zweiten kurzen Bombenangriff auf dem Schlachtfeld verbreitete, verflog das Gefühl der Vorfreude, das mit dem Erscheinen der COBRA-Bombardementsflotte aufgekommen war. Groll, dass die Luftwaffe "es wieder getan hatte" und Grimm über die gesunkenen Aussichten einer erfolgreichen Bodenaktion verbreitete sich in den amerikanischen Reihen. Verzweifelt und niedergeschlagen über die fast 900 Opfer der Bombenanschläge in den beiden Tagen, beschloss General Eisenhower, dass er nie wieder schwere Bomber in einer taktischen Rolle einsetzen würde.

 

In der Nähe des Ortes, an dem die "kurzen" Bomben gefallen waren, wurden die Truppen desorganisiert und in einigen Fällen wurden die Angriffspläne zerschlagen. Alle vier Angriffskompanien des 8. Infanterieregiments waren bombardiert worden.

 

Das Gefühl tiefer Entmutigung überschattete vorübergehend Fragen von unmittelbarer Bedeutung. Hatte die Bombardierung die deutsche Verteidigung im COBRA-Gebiet neutralisiert? Hatten die Bombenfehler die amerikanische Mobilität am Boden gelähmt, indem sie die Angriffstruppen demoralisierten? Die Antworten sollten bald bekannt werden. Kurze Bombenangriffe oder nicht, COBRA war gestartet worden; im Guten wie im Schlechten musste der Bodenangriff weitergehen.

 

[Blumenson geht der im Krieg entscheidenden Frage nach, ob das Bombardement den Deutschen geschadet hat und in welchem Ausmass es daher den Amerikanern nützte. Immerhin waren die deutschen Truppen durch die Luftangriffe des Vortages gewarnt und sie richteten sich danach ein, wozu die amerikanischen Soldaten keine Veranlassung sahen; sie waren auf dem Sprung nach vorn.]

 

 

Ground Attack


    Hoffnungsvoll, dass die COBRA-Bombardierung am Morgen des 25. Juli weitreichende Verwüstungen auf der deutschen Hauptwiderstandslinie verursacht habe, aber keineswegs sicher, dass das so war, zogen um 11.00 Uhr die Infanteristen des VII. Korps in die Attacke. Trotz der Desorganisation, die die Bombenangriffe ausgelöst hatten, vermochten nur zwei Einheiten, ein Regiment der 9. Division und ein Bataillon der 30. Division, nicht zur vollen Stunde angreifen; sie starteten aber mit nur geringer Verzögerung.

    Die Infanterieeinheiten, die den COBRA-Bodenangriff einleiteten, sollten einen geschützten Korridor für die Truppen schaffen, die einem Durchbruch folgten und ihn ausnutzen würden. Die Infanterie hatte daher die Aufgabe, so schnell wie möglich bestimmte geografische Ziele zu sichern. Kritische Geländemerkmale wie Anhöhen und Kreuzungen, die die Kontrolle über den Korridor gewährleisteten, waren jeder kleineren Einheit, die am Angriff beteiligt war, sorgfältig zugewiesen worden; die Angriffstruppen sollten zu ihren Zielen vorstossen, ohne Rücksicht auf die Vormarschgeschwindigkeit der benachbarten Einheiten. Sie sollten feindliche Stützpunkte umgehen und ihre Ausschaltung anderen überlassen, die später kommen würden. Die Geniesoldaten sollten die Vorwärtsbewegung unterstützen, indem sie eilig die Strassen reparierten und Hindernisse beseitigten. Jeder unnötige Verkehr sollte von den Strassen im Angriffsbereich ferngehalten werden. Die angreifenden Einheiten wurden von unwesentlicher Ausrüstung befreit, um die Marschzeit zu verkürzen. Die Truppen trugen zusätzliche Rationen bei sich, um den Nachschubverkehr auf ein Minimum zu beschränken. Sie sollten Verwundete und Gefangene an Ort und Stelle halten, wann immer es möglich wäre. Sie hatten genug Munition erhalten, um zu überleben, bis die die Bresche ausnützenden Panzerverbände durch ihre Reihen hindurch stiessen. Kommandanten oder verantwortliche Stabsoffiziere sollten jederzeit an den Funkgeräten der Einheit sein und sich auf das Kommandonetz einschalten, damit die mobilen Kolonnen sogleich mit der Ausnützung des Durchbruchs beginnen könnten. Sobald das angekündigt werde, solle die Infanterie die Hauptstrassen räumen und die ungehinderte Ausbeutung des Erfolges durch die mechanisierten Truppen ermöglichen (Karte V)

    Die Städte Marigny und St. Gilles waren die Hauptziele der Infanterie. Ihre Ergreifung würde ein Eindringen von drei Meilen in die Tiefe bedeuten, und ihre Beibehaltung würde dem VII. Korps die Kontrolle über das für die Ausbeutung erforderliche Strassennetz geben. Hätte der Luftangriff die deutschen Verteidigungsanlagen zerstört, würde die Infanterie Marigny und St. Gilles ohne große Schwierigkeiten erreichen und sichern. General Collins würde dann seine Panzer nach vorne katapultieren.

 

S. 243

In the center of the VII Corps sector, General Barton had committed only one regiment of the 4th Division. With but slight disorganization because of the short bombing, the 8th Infantry attacked with two battalions abreast on a 2,000-yard front on good terrain for offensive action. One assault battalion immediately bypassed a German strongpoint north of the Périers--St. Lô highway, the line of departure, and moved rapidly south for a mile and a half against scattered opposition; at nightfall the leading troops were just east of la Chapelle-en-Juger. The other assault battalion struck an orchard full of Germans who had such effective fields of fire that the battalion could not sideslip the obstruction. After a two-hour delay, eighteen supporting tanks, which had temporarily lost contact with the infantry, arrived and blasted the orchard. The resistance disintegrated. The battalion crossed the Périers-St. Lô highway and encountered no opposition for 700 yards, but then two German tanks and a line of enemy soldiers along a sunken road again stopped the battalion. Once more the supporting Shermans had become separated from the infantry. The battalion made a double envelopment of the enemy strongpoint and knocked out the two enemy tanks with bazooka fire. Still the enemy held. After the Shermans finally rumbled up, a few rounds of tank fire destroyed the defense. Receiving a sudden order to seize la Chapelle-en-Juger, the battalion changed direction and gained the edge of town. American artillery fire falling nearby brought the attack to a halt.

 

S. 246

The ground attack had actually succeeded better than anyone supposed. The VII Corps infantrymen had destroyed almost all the Germans who survived the bombardment, but the Germans knew this better than the Americans. It would have been hard to convince the 330th Infantry, for example, which had not yet crossed the Périers-St. Lô highway, that a yawning hole existed before the VII Corps. The 9th Division also was far short of Marigny; the committed regiment of the 4th Division had not secured la Chapelle-en-Juger; and the 30th Division had had great difficulty taking Hébécrevon and uncovering a small part of the road to St. Gilles.63 In the opinion of American commanders, a clean penetration had not been made by the end of 25 July. They could not believe that once the troops broke through the main line of resistance, which in actuality they already had, there was "nothing in back to stop us."

 

"Infanterie-Gelände". Das technisch unvollkommene Bild macht vollkommen klar, wie verwundbar in einem solchen Terrain mechanisierte Truppen waren.

 

Legende:

Guerre 1939-1945. Front de Normandie. Convoi américain transportant des troupes par un chemin détourné pendant que le génie répare un pont dynamité, 25 juillet 1944.

Quelle

 


Durchbruch 25.-27. Juli 1944  (vergrössern)

 

 

Blumenson Breakout & Pursuit

 

Infantry Division

 

4th: , 673, 681, 692-93

Argentan-Falaise pocket: 51 1-15
Carentan-Périers isthmus: 80, 86-90, 128-33, 135
COBRA2: 17-18, 230-31, 243, 246, 249, 251-52, 265, 297-3063, 09, 329
drive to Seine: 606-08, 611-15, 621-22
Mortain: 444-48, 466, 470-71, 473-75, 487, 490-92, 615

 

Infantry Regiments

 

8th: 86-88, 129, 231, 236-37, 243, 249, 251, 308, 407
12th: 86-88, 129, 251, 265, 308, 447, 615
22d: 129-302, 18, 254-55, 297, 300-02, 304, 447

 

Division Artillery

 

4th: 64, 86, 88, 470-71

 

Tank Battalions: 43
70th: 86

 

Périers: 80, 86-90, 128-133, 135

 

Cobra2: 230-31, 236-7, 243, 246, 249, 251-52

 

Penetration

S.249

The 8th Infantry of the 4th Division took la Chapelle-en-Juger in the early morning of 26 July. Combat patrols had entered the village during the night, but the village crossroads was not secured until morning.9 Continuing south, the regiment moved slowly, clearing isolated enemy groups. Commitment of the reserve battalion in the afternoon provided enough added weight for a three-mile surge that overran part of the 353d Division and put Panzer Lehr artillery units to flight. Early that evening the leading troops engaged what seemed like the remnants of a German battalion, captured about a company of miscellaneous troops, and destroyed or dispersed the others. The regiment cut the Coutances--St. Lô highway and at the end of the day was about five miles south of the COBRA line of departure.10 On the corps left, the 30th Division had not only to protect the COBRA flank but also to permit an American armored column to pass through the division zone for exploitation beyond St. Gilles. Enemy artillery fire from what was estimated to be one medium and three light battalions, as well as from several 88-mm. guns, checked any real advance during the morning of 26 July; but counterbattery missions delivered by the artillery units of the 30th Division, the VII Corps, and the XIX Corps produced the desired effect early that afternoon. As the division began to advance against diminishing artillery and mortar fire, an armored column passed through the division zone and drove toward St. Gilles.

 

S. 251/2

Although the 330th Infantry on the extreme right flank of the VII Corps again struck stonewall resistance, all the other infantry units advanced during the night of 26 July. The 9th Division secured a road junction of local importance. The 8th Infantry of the 4th Division, leaving its vehicles and antitank guns behind, moved unencumbered for several miles, outflanked both the Panzer Lehr artillery and the remaining reserves of the regiment of the 275th Division at Marigny, and, at dawn, hastened the flight of a withdrawing enemy column. Some troops of the 30th Division moved easily into the loop of the Vire River while others cut the Canisy--St. Lô road.

 

Except on the extreme right flank of the VII Corps where the 330th Infantry was denied for the third day the crossroads on the Périers-St. Lô highway that constituted its original objective, developments after daylight on 27 July indicated that the infantry was nearing fulfillment of its COBRA aims. The 9th Division, in a regimental attack against some 200 Germans, who were on a small ridge and were supported by four tanks and several antitank guns, destroyed the bulk of this force and dispersed the remainder.15 The 4th Division sent its reconnaissance troop ahead to screen a rapid advance.16 Strong resistance from enemy positions hastily erected during the night melted away. The 8th Infantry cut the Carantilly-Canisy road and proceeded to a point more than seven miles south of the Périers-St. Lô highway. To clear small pockets of bypassed Germans, General Barton committed portions of the 12th Infantry, which had been in division reserve since the commencement of COBRA. Contingents of the 30th Division moved all the way into the loop of the Vire River and established physical contact with the 35th Division at the St. Lô bridge. Other units secured the two Vire River bridges on the main roads south of St. Lô. General Hobbs committed his reserve regiment, the 120th, which drove south along the Vire River for almost six miles against little opposition.

 

 

"This thing has busted wide open," General Hobbs exulted. He was right. Evidence of German disintegration was plentiful. Some German soldiers were walking into command posts to surrender; other were fleeing south or across the Vire River.

 

 

On the morning of 28 July, the 330th Infantry at last was able to move against virtually no resistance to rejoin its parent unit, the 83d Division. In the 9th Division sector, only an occasional round of artillery or mortar fire was falling by noon; small arms fire had ceased. Having fulfilled its COBRA assignment, the 9th Division passed into reserve for rest and reconstitution. The 4th Division mopped up isolated enemy remnants and prepared to move south in a new operation. The 30th Division, advancing south along the west bank of the Vire River, passed from control of the VII Corps.

 

 

Commitment of Armor

S. 254/255

 

On the left (east) flank, Maj. Gen. Edward H. Brooks, commanding the 2d Armored Division, had what was essentially a protective mission: guarding the COBRA flank on the south and southeast. Yet if General Brooks realized that his mission was defensive in nature, he gave no indication of it. So far as he was concerned, he was going to move. With the 22d Infantry (Col. Charles T. Lanham) attached, he was to attack in a column of combat commands, which eventually were to split and make independent thrusts. Brig. Gen. Maurice Rose's Combat Command A, with the 22d Infantry attached, was to be the leading unit.29 Rose's troops were to pass through the 30th Division zone and secure St. Gilles.

 

 

Effecting the passage of lines without difficulty, CCA drove south early on 26 July in a single column.30 Almost immediately after the troops crossed the Périers-St. Lô highway, an enemy antitank gun destroyed one Sherman, but this was a blow not soon repeated. Brooks told Rose to get moving, and Rose complied. As the column began to roll, only scattered artillery and antitank fire and an occasional defended hedgerow or ditch provided any genuine resistance. When combined with the problem of bomb craters dotting the countryside, this was nevertheless sufficient to preclude a rapid advance. In the early afternoon a defended roadblock several hundred yards north of St. Gilles held up progress for a short time, but tank fire and an air strike that destroyed four Mark IV tanks and a self-propelled gun soon eliminated the opposition.

In midafternoon CCA rolled through St. Gilles. By this act, the combat command launched the exploitation phase of COBRA. There was no longer any doubt that the German line had definitely been penetrated. The VII Corps had achieved its breakthrough.

 

 

Limited Exploitation

 S. 255

South of St. Gilles, CCA of the 2d Armored Division, with the 22d Infantry still attached, headed for its initial objective in the exploitation: the high ground five miles beyond St. Gilles, ground commanding an extensive network of roads leading into the COBRA zone from the east and south. There, at St. Samson-de-Bonfossé, le Mesnil-Herman, and Hill 183, the armor would find good defensive positions from which to halt a possible German counterattack from across the Vire River. To reach the area, CCA had to pass through Canisy, not quite two miles south of St. Gilles.

 

Proceeding steadily against mortar, artillery, and antitank fire interdicting the Canisy road, CCA had more difficulty with bomb craters, mine fields, and hedgerows than with the occasional enemy resistance. In late afternoon General Rose reported opposition in his zone negligible and estimated that the rear of his column would soon clear St. Gilles.32 Rose's optimism contributed materially to General Collins' decision to continue the corps attack during the night.

 

 

 

The Breakthrough Developed - The Second Thrust Toward Coutances

 

 

S. 265

Dividing CCA into three task forces-each basically a battalion of tanks and one of armored infantry--General Hickey sent the comand across the Périers-St. Lô highway in column early on 27 July. The troops were to drive forward aggressively, outflanking or bypassing resistance and avoiding hedgerow fighting. Though the road net was not the best for rapid armored advance, little opposition was expected because the 4th Division already had passed through the area. With Operation COBRA well on the way to success, there seemed no reason why the armored column should not move quickly to the village of Cerisy-la-Salle, then swing to the west.3

 

 

This line of thought did not take into account certain obstacles--bomb craters, wrecked vehicles, and traffic congestion. The leading task force met a well-organized strongpoint southeast of Marigny around noon of 27 July and lost four of its medium tanks. While the head of the column sought to disengage, the rest of the armor jammed up along the roads to the rear for a distance of almost ten miles. Though the point finally broke contact and bypassed the resistance (which the 12th Infantry of the 4th Division cleared later in the day), another obstacle developed in the Carantilly-Canisy region. Here CCA's advance units encountered several German tanks and antitank guns deployed along a railroad embankment. Prevented from bypassing this resistance because of inadequate roads, the leading task force had no choice but to fight. Heavy fire from CCA's tanks eventually subdued the defenses, but again the bulk of the column had to wait impotently for several hours along the roads to the rear. Traffic congestion and more enemy pockets prompted a halt shortly after dark.

 

The advance had been disappointing. The third task force in the column was still far back in the vicinity of Marigny and St. Gilles, the second was in the Carantilly-Canisy area, and the head of the combat command was more than three miles short of Cerisy-la-Salle, the pivot point for the westward thrust toward Coutances.

 

 

 

Exploiting the Breach - A Clash of Spearheads

S. 297

At noon on 28 July, while the displacement was being carried out, General Corlett assumed responsibility for the units already engaged in his new zone--the 30th Division and CCA of the 2d Armored Division, the latter reinforced by the 4th Division's 22d Infantry, plus the 113th Cavalry Group. (See Map VI.)

 

Map VI vergrössern

The XIX Corps mission of driving south about twenty miles from le Mesnil-Herman to the town of Vire in what was hoped would be a virtually uncontested pursuit contrasted with the previous aim of the forces already engaged on the west bank of the Vire River. While under VII Corps and engaged in Operation COBRA, the 30th Division and the reinforced CCA of the 2d Armored Division had driven south to wall off the Vire River against possible German attacks launched from the east. By noon, 28 July, they were completing their COBRA assignments. The 30th Division, after securing three Vire River bridges south of St. Lô, was moving against slight resistance toward a natural stopping place, a stream south of the villages of Moyon and Troisgots, where General Hobbs hoped to "get a little breather."52 CCA was in possession of its primary COBRA objective, le Mesnil-Herman, and was probing toward the towns of Villebaudon and Tessy-sur-Vire.

 

S. 297 - 304

 

Earlier on 1 August General Hobbs had instructed the 120th Infantry to send a token force to participate in the capture of Tessy-sur-Vire. "We were suddenly ordered . . . to take off for Tessy," explained the commander of the rifle company selected for the mission, "so we took off."77 Without an artillery forward observer, the company moved cross-country to within a mile of the town before an enemy machine gun and several mortars took the troops under fire. Knocking out the machine gun with grenades, the infantrymen infiltrated into the edge of Tessy. Having understood that Tessy had already been secured by CCA and that he was merely to set up roadblocks there, the company commander was disconcerted when enemy forces appeared and drove his men out helter-skelter.

 

 

CCA mounted a second attack that afternoon and penetrated Tessy. Men of the 22d Infantry cleared the center of the town and crossed the river to establish outposts. In the meantime, several CCA tanks rumbling through the northern outskirts of Tessy restored spirit to the company of the 30th Division that had earlier been driven out. "The tanks could have had wooden guns," said one of the men. Their presence alone was invigorating. Together, infantrymen and tankers cleared the northern outskirts.

 

 

Getting into Tessy did not mean that the town was secure. German artillery shells continued to fall into the streets until the 35th Division of the V Corps across the river took high ground east of the town on the following day, 2 August. At that time, the 30th Division passed into XIX Corps reserve and CCA reverted to 2d Armored Division control.

 

 

The XIX Corps was still far from its post-COBRA objective. But it had contributed handsomely to the final success growing out of COBRA. By blocking for five days the German attempt to reestablish a defensive line across the Cotentin, XIX Corps had enabled troops on the First Army right to make a spectacular end run.

 

 

 Breakthrough Becomes Breakout - The Outflanking Force

 S. 307-309

 For some time General Collins had been of the opinion that the 3d Armored Division was overcautious. He had, for example, seen dismounted reconnaissance personnel searching for enemy troops while American vehicles nearby passed back and forth unmolested. He also felt that the 3d showed lack of experience and needed aggressive leadership at the top. The command did not know, for example, "how to coil up off the road or close when it was stopped." Collins had observed a "long column going off the road through one hole in a hedgerow . . . one vehicle . . . at a time . . . blocking the road to the rear for miles, holding up supplies and transportation coming forward." To replace the 3d Armored Division, Collins brought the 1st Division south to take responsibility for the 3d Armored Division zone. This gave him "two exceptionally able commanders" in Generals Huebner and Barton.

 

Attaching CCA to the 1st Division and CCB to the 4th Division--thereby reducing the 3d Armored Division headquarters to an administrative agency charged only with supplying and servicing the combat commands--Collins ordered the infantry divisions to attack abreast, each spearheaded by the attached armor. With COBRA completed, he visualized a more distant objective ten miles south of Villedieu-les-Poëles: the 4th Division was to proceed through Villedieu to St. Pois, which earlier, until the Tessy-sur-Vire battle developed, had been a XIX Corps objective; the 1st Division was to drive to Brécey and beyond, across the Sée River.10

 

The challenge of rapid advance came a day too early for the 4th Division, for the division lacked troops. Though the organic regiment that had been attached to the XIX Corps had been replaced by the 1st Division's 26th Infantry, the 26th now passed to its parent unit. Another of the 4th Division's organic regiments, the 8th Infantry, would not arrive from the Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly region until too late for the first day of renewed attack. Only one regiment, the 12th Infantry, plus the attached armor, was on hand. When the infantrymen attacked toward Villedieu-les-Poëles, they could make only minor gains. At the same time, CCB moved eastward along the vulnerable left flank of the division and spent most of the day building bridges, reorganizing, and reducing occasional enemy roadblocks.

 

Not until the evening of 31 July, after the arrival of the 8th Infantry, was the 4th Division altogether ready to drive south. Calling his principal subordinates together, General Barton made it clear he had in mind rapid, sweeping advances. "We face a defeated enemy," he told his commanders, "an enemy terribly low in morale, terribly confused. I want you in the next advance to throw caution to the winds . . . destroying, capturing, or bypassing the enemy, and pressing"--he paused to find the correct word--"pressing recklessly on to the objective."11 The units of the 4th Division and the attached armor took General Barton at his word when they renewed the attack on 1 August.

 

Meanwhile, developments had occurred even more rapidly on the corps right, where CCA spearheaded the 1st Division attack on 31 July. One task force drove quickly against scattered German forces that were employing occasional tanks and antitank guns in ineffective delaying actions. Hitting the broad side of an enemy column--light armor and personnel carriers--moving southwest from Villedieu toward Avranches, tankers of this task force disorganized and dispersed the enemy with fire at close range, though fast-falling twilight helped a large part of the column to escape. Sensing the proximity  of stronger enemy forces, and unwilling to chance contact while his own troops were dispersed, General Hickey ordered the task force into defensive positions for the night near the village of l'Epine.

 

More spectacular was the thrust of another task force under Colonel Doan that cut the Villedieu-les-Poëles-Granville highway just west of Villedieu in the late afternoon of 31 July. As Doan was searching for a good place to halt, he received a message that General Collins wanted him to continue twelve miles farther to the final objective, Hill 242, south of Brécey. Doan spurred his force on. Looking ahead to a railroad embankment where he could expect opposition, he asked for fighter-bombers to fly column cover to strafe and bomb the tracks as their last mission in the fading light of day. When the ground column crossed the railway unopposed, the tankers noticed several unmanned antitank guns. Though the enemy crews later returned to their positions to oppose the infantry in wake of the armored spearhead, the effective work of the fighter-bombers had spared the armor what could have been a costly engagement.

 

Bypassing one of its original objectives, Hill 216 southwest of Villedieu-les-Poëles, Doan's task force barreled down the main road to Brécey during the early evening hours of 31 July. When the commander of the point had difficulty selecting the correct road at an intersection, Colonel Doan himself took over in his command tank. Making a Hollywood-type entry into Brécey, the task force commander took pot shots with his pistol at surprised German soldiers who were lounging at the curb and in houses along the main street of the town.

 

Though the principal bridge south of Brécey had been destroyed, Doan's command prepared a hasty ford by hand-carrying rock to line the river bed. Infantrymen waded the stream and subdued scattered small arms fire. Tanks and vehicles followed. The final objective, Hill 242, lay three miles to the south, and only when his men reached a wooded area on the north slope of the hill did Doan permit a halt.

 

On 1 August, a week after the beginning of Operation COBRA, VII Corps was near the base of the Cotentin, more than thirty miles due south of the Périers-St. Lô highway. General Collins had reversed his field and made an extraordinary gain that outflanked the German left.