Widening of the bridgehead in Normandy (3/3)

D-Day+1 to D-Day+12 – June 7 to June 18, 1944

The Germans on the defensive

If the Germans are in sharp numerical inferiority, they know how to make the best use of Normandy, the bocage. This bocage is composed of plots of land and orchards, all surrounded by large hedges of shrubs and nettles, which the inhabitants have maintained for decades. These natural fortifications are profitable to the Germans who integrate them in their defensive strategy.

Image : Un char Allemand Panther attaque les forces Britanniques à l'Ouest de Caen A German tank destroyer Panther attacks the British forces west of Caen. Photo: Bundesarchiv

General Rommel then asked the Führer whether he still believed in German chances in Normandy. Hitler replied: “This question is not your responsibility but mine.For he still believes in German secret weapons, such as the V-1 rockets, as long as the forces of Normandy contain the landed forces and allow engineers to create and produce these devices of mass destruction, military objectives in particular: artificial ports allied for example.

Image : Fusée Allemande V1 en vol German rocket V1 in flight. Photo: Bundesarchiv

At the moment when Hitler gave his orders to the German generals of Normandy in mid-June 1944, the V-1 rockets were still not precise enough to be effective: on 17 June, the day of the meeting between the Führer, Von Rundstedt and Rommel, a V-1 falls a few meters from the bunker of Hitler, instead of landing on the city of London. The two German generals (who had left the bunker before the accident) can not see the Führer again after this incident and return to Normandy without having obtained additional aid from the German armed forces.

The Allies settle

Rommel knows that the objective of the Allies, once the bridgehead has been reunified and a maximum of divisions engaged in Normandy (twenty divisions are then committed between Sainte-Mère-Eglise and Ouistreham and 24,500 tons of equipment are disembarked), is to seize the town of Cherbourg. He decided to defend the Cotentin Peninsula as far as possible, but already, on June 18, General Collins’ 7th Corps cut the Cotentin in two.

It is also on this date that the two artificial ports of Arromanches and Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer are completed and ready to receive the supply ships. These installations are favorable to the beginning of the second offensive action, after that of the enlargement of the bridgehead: its consolidation. It is for the Allies to capture Cherbourg, to pierce towards the south of the American sector in the direction of Saint-Lô, and to capture Caen while securing the eastern zone of the allied invasion of the mouth of the Orne to the Capital of Calvados.

Rommel summes up the situation: “The enemy is reinforced under the protection of a very strong air superiority, our aviation and our navy are incapable of making a valid opposition, the enemy strengthens much faster than our reserves arrive… Our position is extremely difficult: the opponent forbids us any movement during the day when he moves his forces (even by air) in complete freedom. The enemy has total control over the air above the front and up to 100 kilometers back… Our aviation and our anti-aircraft weapons are totally incapable of interrupting its destruction power…

On 20 June 1944, two days after the meeting of Margival, Hitler requestes a counter-offensive on the western front in the center of the allied bridgehead with the 2nd SS Panzerkorps brought back from Poland: the Führer believes that the elite units SS of the Third Reich will succeed where the Wehrmacht, a more classical unit, has failed.

Image : Soldats Allemands (16e <em>Luftwaffe</em>n-Felddivision) armés de mitrailleuses MG sur la Place Courtonne à Caen German soldiers (16th Luftwaffe-Felddivision) armed with machine guns on Place Courtonne in Caen. Photo: Bundesarchiv