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The breakthrough (#1)

From D-Day + 32 to D-Day + 55 - From July 8 to July 31, 1944

 
Image : A Sherman bulldozer crosses the Airel bridge on July 8 with US soldiers of the 105th Engineer Combat Batalion

A Sherman bulldozer crosses the Airel bridge on July 8 with US soldiers of the 105th Engineer Combat Batalion.

On July 8, 1944, Northern Caen and the Cherbourg harbor are finally liberated by the Allies.

Image : Canadian soldiers patrol North of Caen on July 9, 1944

Canadian soldiers patrol North of Caen on July 9, 1944.

Operation Goodwood

South of Caen, the effect of attraction of the German armored divisions continues. To conquer the whole of the capital of Calvados, General Montgomery is developing a new operation codenamed Goodwood. It aims at encircling the city and at attacking from the positions of the 6th Airborne division, deployed on June 6 between the Orne river and Troarn. The attack is planned for June 18, 1944.

Images : A British soldier patrols with his baïonet A British soldier patrols with his baïonet.

3 British armored divisions (the 11th, 7th and Guards), commissioned by the 8th corps led by General O'Connor, must attack east of Caen toward open areas south and southwest of Caen to Falaise.

Image : At Saint-Fromond, an American armored column waits for the departure order on July 11

At Saint-Fromond, an American armored column waits for the departure order on July 11.

But preparations of this attack alarm the Germans who notice the movements of the British infantry and armored units even before the beginning of the operation. Rommel orders Eberbach (commander of the armored group west, head of the eastern part of the front line, right flank of the 7th German Army) to strengthen the defense of the south of Caen while installing 88 guns batteries belonging to the 16th anti aircraft division coming from Holland, but also deploying tanks of the 1st and 12nd SS Panzerdivisions and of the 21st Panzerdivision (Eberbach command takes the name of 5th Panzer Army later).

Images : German soldiers in a MG 42 position in the Bavent woods German soldiers in a MG 42 position in the Bavent woods.

On July 17, Rommel checks the fortifications set up by Eberbach and on his way back to his command post in La Roche-Guyon, an aircraft fighter patrol attacks the General's car. The driver of the car is killed and Rommel is very seriously injured. A Norman civilian vehicle traveling on this route at this time is requisitioned by the survivors of the attack and Rommel was taken to a military hospital in emergency. Von Kluge takes Rommel responsibilities at the head of his command (command west), in addition to his own responsibilities within the command of Army Group B.

The clash of the chiefs

The German defense, facing the attack of operation Goodwood resists well until July 24 and the 11th British division lost 126 tanks in one day. But the city of Caen on that date is completely under allied control. If Goodwood seems to be a success, Eisenhower and the entire ally command are not sure about it. The supreme commander of the allied forces wants to clear the situation on July 19, with the commander of the U.S. forces (Omar Bradley) and the commander of the British forces (Montgomery).

Cette rencontre a lieu car les rapports n'apparaissent pas comme favorables aux chefs militaires alliés : la progression est très lente dans la région de Caen et considérée comme insuffisante par les spécialistes militaires, les pertes en vies humaines sont très élevées et l'approvisionnement des forces débarquées et en retard par rapport aux prévisions, suite aux mauvaises conditions atmosphériques. Bradley leur apprend qu'une opération américaine visant à percer le front au Sud du Cotentin est prête, et qu'il attend le moment opportun (principalement une amélioration des conditions météorologiques) pour la lancer. The meeting comes as reports are not as pro-military allies: the progress is very slow in the area of Caen and is deemed insufficient by the military specialists, casualties are very high and the supply of forces and landed behind schedule due to bad weather conditions. Bradley teaches that American operation to penetrate the front south of the Cotentin is ready and is waiting for the opportune moment (mainly improved conditions weather) for the launch.

Montgomery believes that his latest operation, Goodwood, is satisfactory in terms of results, even if it appears to be disastrous for specialists and most generals allies. Churchill, warned by Eisenhower, visits Montgomery and asked him to go on. This tension between the Allied military leaders will disappear very quickly after the events that happends after the meeting of 19 July .

On July 20, fails Hitler assassination attempt, while he was watching at maps with his generals at his Rastenburg HQ, East Prussia.

There are no military consequences since the German soldiers continue the fightings with the same fervor in Normandy. In contrast, the Führer takes from that moment more distance with his generals, including those from the nobility (which are numerous) and he accuses them of plotting against him.

 

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Indeed, the bomb which was to kill him was filed by a member of his own military entourage, Count Claus von Stauffenberg, Chief of Staff of the German armies.

Image: Hitler with Mussolini, after the missed Rastenbourg strike, on June 20, 1944

Hitler with Mussolini, after the missed Rastenbourg strike, on June 20, 1944.

This will not improve the already poor relations between officers of the German headquarters. Hitler does no longer trust classic units such as the Wehrmacht but prefers SS troops considered as elite units, rather than improving relations between the Wehrmacht and the SS. Hitler's power is more important and the war seems to last. In addition, German resources are still important despite the Allies bombing.

The Hedgerows War

Bradley said that the marshy area of Carentan is still a serious fighting area. The 1st U.S. Army progresses successfully in this sector, fiercely defended by German troops, aware of the importance of the city connecting the beaches of Utah and Omaha. But little by little, the Americans progress south of Normandy and the 1st Army liberates the town of La Haye-du-Puits after 7 days of bloody fighting.

Image : Une photographie illustrant bien la "Guerre des Haies", près de Saint-Lô

The "Guerre des Haies", près de Saint-Lô.

The Americans, reassured by the capture of Cherbourg, can focus on the south. On July , 4 U.S. Army corps (14 divisions) are positioned south on a front line of 75 kilometers between the east coast and the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula, south of Saint-Sauveur and Caumont.

Yet the progression of the landed troops is not easy: the hedgerows of Normandy occupied by a dozen of German divisions of the 84th corps (led by von Choltitz, replacing Farmbacher after the fall of Cherbourg, which replaces Erich Marcks, killed at Caumont) do not facilitate the work of the Allies.

The U.S. progression is slow, each hedge becomes a fortress, with ambushed heavy machine guns and light armored units. Caumont has a pivotal role to the front line that reaches Saint-Lô on July 18, the city being destroyed at 80% by the bombings. Northern Road of Lessay and Périers is under American control, but the Germans led by von Choltitz firmly defend the southern part of the road.

With only one reserve division (the 2nd SS Panzerdivision arriving north of Coutances and coming from Toulouse at the end of June), all other divisions are positioned defensively, including the Panzerlehrdivision being on the front since June 8, 1944 (initially, it is positioned near Caen).

Image : Saint-Lô, destroyed up to 80%, is liberated on July 18, 1944

Saint-Lô, destroyed up to 80%, is liberated on July 18, 1944.

The British and Canadians attack south of Caen in the direction of the Mont-Pinçon which dominates the center of the ally front line.

German military factories are still working: 4,545 twin-engine aircrafts are produced during the second quarter of 1944, while 2,545 are destroyed in flight or on the ground by the Allied forces. De même entre mai et July 1944 pour les industries de chars qui livrent 2 313 blindés à la Wehrmacht contre 1730 de perdus. It is the same between May and July 1944 for the industries that supply 2,313 tanks to the Wehrmacht which lost 1,730 armored units. Un des gros problèmes des forces allemandes est le déplacement des unités nouvelles ou de réserves. One of the major problems for the German forces is the movement the reinforcements. Indeed, they are running short of oil, the communication are difficult and personnels are not replaced.

From June 6 to July 23, the 7th German west armored army loses 116,863 men and only 10,078 replacements reach the front. The same goes for tanks: while 3 to 4 hundreds armored vehicles are destroyed, only 2 dozens of tanks replace them.

Image : American soldiers taking position south of La-Haye-du-Puits after the liberation of the city

American soldiers taking position south of La-Haye-du-Puits after the liberation of the city.

Operation Cobra

The commander of U.S. military forces engaged in Normandy, Omar Bradley, wants to launch a major offensive to og through the front line and to disrupt the enemy's defenses to hasten the end of the German army in the north-west of France.

This operation, codenamed Cobra, is scheduled for July 20. New reinforcements have landed and in 7 weeks, 36 Allied divisions are engaged in Normandy, not counting the air and land support forces which represent a total of 1,566,000 men, 332,000 vehicles and 1,500,000 tons of equipment and ammunition. Due to weather conditions the start of operation Cobra is postponed to July 25.

A cette date, le front De l'ouest Normand a avancé d'une quinzaine de kilometers au prix de très lourdes pertes. At that time, the western Norman front has advanced of fifteen kilometers but losses are huge.

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