Widening of the bridgehead in Normandy (2/3)
D-Day+1 to D-Day+12 – June 7 to June 18, 1944
Joining allied front lines
The front between the Orne and the Vire rivers evolved very rapidly towards the south and the air activity of the allies was such that the Germans nicknamed this front the “Jaborennstecke” (“the street of Jabos“, “Jabos” being the nickname given to allied fighter planes).
On the evening of June 7th, the airborne and landed troops terminated their junction in the Cotentin Peninsula, but many paratroopers are still lost and keep looking for their own company.
Eisenhower, Bradley and Montgomery meet on a torpedo boat off the coast of Normandy to discuss the situation on the front, Bradley representing US forces and Montgomery all land forces: on June 8, Americans have pierced the Omaha front for nearly ten kilometers in depth and made their junction with the British troops coming from Gold Beach in Port-en-Bessin.
The 352nd German infantry division, which held the 1st and 29th US divisions between Vierville-sur-Mer and Colleville-sur-Mer in check, is very weakened by the fighting and the allied forces continue the offensive in order to put definitively out of battle this division of the battlefield, thus securing the area of Omaha.
The delay of German reinforcements
On June 8, Britain’s divisions arrived in Normandy: the 3rd German airborne division from Brest to Saint-Lô, the 77th division of Saint-Malo and the 353th division of Morlaix. Harassed by Allied aviation and French resistance fighters (advised by the paratroopers Jedburgh teams on the destruction actions to be carried out), some German units take a considerable time to reach Normandy: the 17th SS Panzergrenadier division was alerted on June 6th to Poitiers, but it arrived with its first elements the Caumont region only on June 11th.
|South of Bayeux, British Sherman tank of the 50th Infantry Division in front of a destroyed Panzer. Photo: IWM|
Due to this delay, the German divisions do not have time to regroup before being launched in the battle. Thus they are engaged as and when they arrive and are not important enough to worry the impressive mass of the Allies, clearly out of surplus. For example, the 9th SS Panzerdivision Frundsberg and the 10th SS Panzerdivision Hohenstaufen of the 2nd SS Panzerkorps from Poland take longer to cross France than they have put to rally the Rhine from the Russian front, and will arrive in pieces Until Normandy from July 25th.
The most impressive delay is that of the 2nd SS Panzerdivision “Das Reich“, commanded by the SS Obergruppenführer Lammerding, which is set in motion on 6 June in the evening and arrives at Noyers-Bocage south of Caen with its first elements on 28 June, 22 days later.
|German soldiers cared for by the British of the 50th Infantry Division on 14 June 1944. Photo: IWM|
Since 6 June, the Allies have been setting up advanced landing grounds in Normandy to evacuate wounded soldiers, transport essential supplies or carry out deep raids in France.
The Germans are annoyed that they can not easily reach the front line and some Nazi officers order reprisals in France, as at Oradour-sur-Glane, where a terrible massacre takes place on 10 June. The “Das Reich” division executed 644 villagers, including 246 women and 207 children, on the pretext that French resistance was hiding in village buildings.
|Ruins of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane after the massacre of the civil population.|
Eisenhower and Bradley (Bradley established his command post near Pointe du Hoc on June 9) agree to accelerate the junction between American soldiers from Omaha and Utah in order to sequel to the breakthrough towards Cherbourg and its very precious deep water port. Then Bradley meets Montgomery again in the town of Port-en-Bessin which receives the “Pluto” mission, a fuel recovery point connecting England and France and which supplies the Allied forces with a large quantity of fuel.
The Germans, who oppose a fierce resistance to the landed forces, have no choice of withdrawal: the orders given on June 10 by Hitler are clear: “every man must fight and fall on the spot.”
On June 12, the US 1st Infantry Division, who landed on June 6 in Omaha and suffered very heavy losses during the landing, attack Caumont, 30 kilometers south of the beach.
The British attack Villers-Bocage on the road from Caen to Vire but are pushed back in a fight of extreme violence by the first German Tiger tanks appeared in Normandy, SS Panzerbataillon 101, led by SS Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann, who goes up a column of British tanks, destroying them one by one. The superiority of the German tanks is irrevocable: reports of armored casualties indicate that it takes about five Sherman tanks or ten Cromwell tanks to defeat one Tiger.
Fortunately for the Allies, they “rule the sky” and their fighter bombers terrifies German troops, whether or not they are on the move. Thus, on June 12, when the American soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division captured Caumont, the commander of the 84th Corps of the city, General Marcks, was killed while traveling by car through an allied air attack.
|Holgate Street in Carentan, borrowed by American vehicles and soldiers. Photo: US National Archives|
The city of Carentan is a priority objective of the Allies. It is the link between the Cotentin and the Calvados regions, where many important roads and a railway network meet. The tanks coming from Utah must imperatively pass through Carentan to join the units disembarked from Omaha before piercing towards the south of Normandy. Attacked by the paratroopers of the 101st American Airborne Division, the city falls on June 12th and German counter-attacks are repulsed: the junction between all the allied forces is carried out. The Allies hold a bridgehead of nearly eighty kilometers long, from Ouistreham to Sainte-Mère-Eglise and it reaches from ten to thirty kilometers of depth according to the places.
|Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division in Holgate Street in Carentan. Photo: US National Archives|
But the German generals fighting in Normandy are convinced that a withdrawal is necessary in order to regroup greater forces before launching a vast counter-offensive. They then tried to persuade Hitler that the German troops had to abandon certain positions. Thus general Rommel wrote on 12 June to the Führer: “The army group can do better than to constitute a continuous front between the Orne and the Vire… Army group is trying to replace armored formations by infantry to restore mobile reserves… The Army group will move its point of effort in the days to come to Carentan and Montebourg to counter the danger to Cherbourg… “
As of 12 June (D-Day + 6), 16 divisions with 326,547 men, accompanied by 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of equipment, are landed in the bridgehead (9 American divisions, 7 British and Canadian divisions).
On the night of June 12-13, the first V-1s were launched on London. The launches will reach a maximum (244) in the single night of June 16th. During the first week of D-Day on Day-D + 7 (June 6-13), tactical air forces carried out almost 35,000 sorties.
To supply the Allied armies with ammunition, fuel, food and equipment, unloading directly onto the beach of the equipment by transport ships is insufficient and ships of high tonnage can not risk running aground to land their cargo.
The Allies planned to fill this gap by assembling pre-built and towed parts from England to Normandy to form two artificial ports, one for the British in front of the locality of Arromanches-les-Bains, another for the Americans in front of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. The ports are codenamed Mulberry I and Mulbery II.
|Assembly of a floating dam for the artificial harbor of Arromanches. Photo: IWM|