The consolidation of the bridgehead (1/2)
D-Day+12 to D-Day+32 – June 18 to July 8, 1944
On June 18, 1944, the allied bridgehead in Normandy held firm, but the objectives initially foreseen by the Overlord plan were always to be reached, notably the capture of Caen, scheduled for D-Day (June 6).
The consolidation of the allied bridgehead rests largely on the two artificial ports that the Allies built and assembled in front of the localities of Arromanches-les-Bains and Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. They supply fuel, ammunition, food and equipment to Allied combat forces. But on June 19 and 20, 1944, a very strong storm destroyed the port of Saint-Laurent and damaged that of Arromanches, which could however be repaired. Nevertheless, dozens of ships were sunk or stranded and nearly 140,000 tons of equipment were lost.
|German destruction in the port of Cherbourg. Photo: US National Archives
The supply is much lower, so much so that the Allied General Staff is really realizing the growing importance of capturing a deep-water port such as Cherbourg. Thus began the battles for the control of Cherbourg which are mainly carried out by the 7th corps of General Collins, which has the reputation of being one of the best tacticians of the American army.
The American advance in the Cotentin peninsula is slow, but nothing stops Collins. The fighting is very violent and very murderous, the Germans defending their positions bitterly, even if they do not have as many armored vehicles as in the region of Caen. But the 4th, 9th, and 79th American divisions overcome their enemies and reached the town of Cherbourg on June 21st, which falls on the 27th. It is totally under control only from July 1st, 1944.
|German Prisoner of the Schifsstammeabteilung in Cherbourg. Photo: US National Archives
It was not until 17 July that the first allied ship entered the port of Cherbourg, which had just been renovated to unload its precious cargo.
|One of the forts of Cherbourg photographed after the allied bombing. Photo: US National Archives
German generals believe in Fortitude
The German chiefs of staff know this, and Rommel and von Rundstedt among the first: the capture of Cherbourg by the Allies marks a turning point in the battle of Normandy which announces a defeat of greater scope for Nazi Germany.
Hitler, for his part, always orders his generals to station the 15th Army in the north of France, for he still believes that the landing of Normandy is merely a diversion, and that the real landing will take place in front of Pas-de-Calais.
But the Allied intelligence services flood the offices of the German General Staff with false reports which deceive the Axis generals.
On the day of the fall of Cherbourg on June 27, 1944, the German intelligence services wrote: “The enemy employs 27 to 31 divisions in the bridgehead, while in England there remain 67 large units, 57 of which may be used for one large-scale operation“. Operation Fortitude operates marvelously because in truth, the Allies have only 15 divisions ready to disembark and 25 divisions are in the bridgehead. Immediate consequence: the Germans maintain in the Pas-de-Calais 150,000 soldiers who are cruelly lacking on the Normandy front.
The “Monty” case
East of Normandy, facing Caen, very violent fighting is underway, according to new plans elaborated by the English general Montgomery, nicknamed “Monty”, commander-in-chief of the allied land forces engaged in Normandy. This freedom of action in relation to the initial plans laid down on 15 May 1944 in London seems to aggravate the other allied generals who even think, like the general commander of the Allied air forces, Arthur Tedder, to sack him.
Allied airmen are the first to think that the advance of General Monty’s armies is too slow and inefficient, as they can not find new aviation strips because they do not take over additional land.
In order to justify his strategy, Montgomery presented his way of proceeding: “The Second British Army must carry out the assault to the west of the Orne river in order to engage in operations south and south-east to ensure airfields and to protect the eastern flank of the 1st US Army, which will take Cherbourg, and then the 2nd Army will swing to its left and present a strong front against enemy maneuvers coming from the east”.
|German soldiers in position with a MG 42 machine gun in the wood of Bavent. Photo: Bundesarchiv
General Eisenhower writes: “To the east we had not been able to break into the Seine river, and the concentration of the maximum enemy power in the Caen area had not enabled us to assure ourselves in this part of land we needed so much. But our plans were sufficiently flexible so that we could take advantage of the enemy’s counter-attacks by ordering US western units to attack out of the consolidation zone forcefully, the British and the Canadians kept the Germans occupied in the east”.
|On 26 June, soldiers of the 6th “Royal Scot Fusiliers” attacked with smoke. Photo: IWM