was the scene of furious fightings for several weeks after June 6,
1944. After the battle of the beaches came what historians now commonly
call the "hedgerows war" in reference to the nature of the
land. The hedgerows, also known as the "battle of the bocage",
began the day after D-Day and was over at the end of August 1944,
when allied troops eventually released the biggest part of the current
Basse-Normandie region. Almost two months of fierce and bloody
fightings that have severely tested men. What are the specificities
of combat during the Battle of Normandy? Revealing many tactical and
technical lessons for the military even at the present time, the battle
of the hedgerows deserves detailed study, which combines areas such
as geography, tactics or weapons.
The hedges in 1944
The very nature
of hedges in 1944 is not the same as today. At the time of the Normandy
landings, the hedges are an average of five meters high, a size
smaller than today. Particularly well maintained, they have a dominant
economic role in the region, which has largely disappeared today.
Indeed, if the
hedges are used to delineate the properties and keep the flow of water,
they also serve to keep cows or horses. Providing non-negligible food
supplements due to the presence of many apple and pear trees in the
region (which can also produce alcohols such as cider, perry, the
pommel or calvados) which are either located within hedges or in orchards
that surround it. The plant mass bordered mostly by nettles and brambles
is also a source of wood for heating.
Difficult to cross because
of the tortuous structure forming the plant, the hedge in 1944 is
in line with traditional Norman
and part of the landscape, it has influenced tactics of combatants
for all the duration of the Battle of Normandy.
tactical interest of hedges
structure and layout of hedgerows in Normandy is particularly unfavorable
to the attackers.
A squad leader
must be able to achieve three things: to see, to shoot, to maneuver.
But in an offensive during the Battle of the bocage, the attackers
could only rarely have views across the fields, hedges also hid
the lines of fire. They were also insurmountable obstacles which
avoided movements for the squads and battle groups.
soldiers in defensive positions were in a position of strength if
they had taken into account the characteristics of the land. The
Germans knew the Normandy insofar as it had been occupied for nearly
four years. The maneuvers had increased in Normandy and lessons
for the Wehrmacht and armored divisions are legion. The soldiers
as well as tanks crews learned to take advantage of the terrain,
to camouflage their positions. On the one hand they were flooding
a large portion of land south and southwest of the Bay of Veys,
on the other hand, they have carefully avoided touching the fences
that formed a natural wall. Only hedges close to fixed support points
were cut for obvious reasons of observation and ability to open
If, as we have
seen, a squad leader has to be able to see, to shoot and to maneuver,
virtually only the
defense was capable of it. It can reference before the battle, the
best observation posts, the best firing positions, they are able
to fix and destroy the enemy and can already stake possible paths
to handle the downturn more quickly and more efficiently as possible.
cMany observation posts, such as concrete Tobrouks, were
reinforced before the fighting with the coordinates of places nearby
that the enemy might take. The Germans had just to transmit the
coordinates to the closest
to halt the enemy progression and in
a particularly rapid period.
For the attacker,
however, it was just the opposite. Unaware of the ground, the attacker
needed to move from one field to another, and each hedge was a fortress
to assault. The views were very limited and the direct infantry
support was therefore
difficult to complete. If the range of some Allied weapons Allied
was several hundred of meters, the bocage reduces that distance.
Enfin, la manoeuvre, de part la structure même des haies,
est extrêmement difficile pour celui qui ne connait pas les
détails du terrain, les possibilités d'entrée
et de sortie de chaque champ ou de chaque verger. Finally, the maneuver,
part of the structure of hedges, is extremely difficult for one
who does not know the details of the field, the possibilities of
entry and exit of each field or each orchard. La haie demeure toutefois
une protection non-négligeable contre les armes légères
d'infanterie, pour l'assaillant comme pour le défenseur.
The hurdle remains a non-negligible protection against small arms
infantry for the attacker as the defender.
The hedgerows war
The hedgerows war began itself in the early hours of June 6, 1944:
U.S. and Anglo-Canadians paratroopers and the landed troops have
immediately faced this vegetation. Allied gliders, transporting
men and equipment (ammunition, small vehicles, heavy weapons)
stroke hedges like cars driving at full speed struck walls. Losses
are disturbing, so are the equipment damages.
June 6, 1944, German mobile artillery batteries used hedges to
accomplish their mission by being camouflaged from the views of
the enemy aircrafts which could either destroy or define their
position and guide the firing of the artillery on board warships
in the Bay of Seine. This is particularly the case of the German
battery installed at Brécourt near Sainte-Marie-du-Mont
end of the battle on the beaches let the place for the hedgerows
war. The Americans were mostly confronted with this kind of struggle.
Indeed, in the area of Caen (where the Anglo-Canadians have progressed)
the land is mainly composed of vast plains, suitable for armored
fighting. To the west, however, the Cotentin is largely divided
into small orchards or cultivated fields bordered by hedges (note
also that at the time, corn has not the same importance than the
one given today Today in Normandy). C'est ce que les géographes
appellent véritablement le bocage normand. This is what
geographers call truly the Normandy. The Anglo-Canadian soldiers
have, however, also encountered this type of vegetation.
objective of the Americans is to cut the Cotentin in two to prevent
the Germans to refuel and strengthen Cherbourg and its deep-water
port. The 5th corps of General Collins literally drove through
the grove to reach the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula. Troops
movements were voluntarily accelerated, what caused many casualties
among U.S. troops often attacked by German snipers and artillery
positions. Crossroads and bridges are crossed at full speed but
when there is no surprise, the Germans used the hedges to stop
the landed forces.
has played a central role throughout the Normandy campaign. Not
only was it possible for it to cover the troops, but it could
also dislodge the enemy troops from their caches and prepare offensives
through extensive bombing, mostly concentrated in the space and
time. The most striking example is operation Cobra, which has
seen an intense bombing to open passages through German lines
to pierce the front toward Brittany. On 25 July 1944, the Americans
apply the carpet bombing strategy. 1,500 B-17 and B-25 bombers
droped almost 3,300 tons of bombs between Montreuil and Hebecrevon,
north-west of Saint-Lô. But because of bad weather and the
proximity of U.S. forces, dozens of U.S. soldiers were killed
during the bombing: there are 111 dead and around 500 wounded.
Allies needed ingenuity to carry out their missions whit the minimum
required equipment on the field. To do so, they enhanced the signal
capacity between the fighter and artillery support and develop
equipment suitable to Normandy, such as the Rhinoceroses Sherman,
with blades that allowed it to cross hedges more easily (cf. above).
This invention enabled the use of tanks during the progression
through the various fields, what was difficult to achieve without
risking the premature loss of these devices (ambushes allowing
the Germans to attack close and very effectivly the Allied armored).
This study of the hedgerows war in Normandy showed the characteristic
of combat in the hedgerows and the ascendancy of the defense tactics
on the attack. The Allies military power has come to grips with
his opponent but at the cost of heavy losses and delays. . This
fighting has shown the importance of support weapons (ground and
board artillery, aviation) that have generally saved troops from
The Germans had wanted the extension of the conflict since they
could not resist the Allies war machine. Their actions have delayed
the advance of U.S., British or Canadian troops, but it did not
arrest them so far. However, German generals have not benefited
from these delaying actions in Normandy. Indeed, Hitler was expecting
a decisive victory that could reject the Allies into the sea,
while his generals advised a tactical retreat behind the Seine.
This lack of clarity and the loss of time has benefited to the
Allies who were able to rush in France and make great strides
towards the total liberation of Europe.
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