The Liberation of France: Breakout from Normandy

D-Day Normandy breakout
Figure 1.-- After weeks of fighting it out in the Brokage country, the Americans finally broke through at St. L A concentrated carpet bombing shattered the vaunted Panzer Lehr Division. Note the massive damage here. Patton's Third Army pierced the German lines with armoured thrusts and then rapidly fanned out in the German rear. Here two French boys survey what was left of St. L in the aftermath of the fighting. A German offensive at Mortain attemoted to cut off the advancing mericans, but failed. Source: United States National Archives. USA C-2242.

The British were suposed to take Caen, but as this was the most direct route to Paris, the Germans concentrated their forces nd held Caen. This led to weeks of costly fighting in the Bokage county. The Germans held, but the building Allied forces severly streached the German forces. Finally the Allies prepared breakout. British and Canadian troops under Montgomery struck first with Operation Goodwin. It proved to be a costly battle. They finally captured Caen after a major air attack (July 9). They were unable to break the German lines, however, in part because the rubble created by the air attack in Caen slowed the advance and the Germans were able to regroup west of the city. The German forces were concentrated around Caen which weakened their perimeter to the south. And it was here that the American offensive finlly broke the badly streached Germans--Operation Cobra (July 25). The major break through came further south. Patton's Third Army after a concentrated carpet bombing shattered the vaunted Panzer Lehr Division. The Americans pierced the German lines with armoured thrusts near St. L and rapidly fanned out behind German lines. Hitler ordered an offensive--Operation Lttich (Augusdt 6). They attacked toward Mortain. The German tanks were superior, but unlike 1940, the infantry had effective anti-tank weapons. And thanks to Ultra, the Allies were not totally surprised. The simply did not have adequate reserves and attacked with inadequate forces. The result was that it simply put the Germans further west anfd in a more exposed position. The Americans continued to attack behind the German lines. While American Sherman tanks were inferior to the German tanks, they were faster and more numerous, perfect for rapid maneur. Allied air power made it impossible for the Germans to contain the American offensive. The German 7th Army devestated and the Americans moved to trap the Germans in a pocket forming around Falaise. German units were forced to abandon their tanks and flee east.

Cherbourg (June 27, 1944)

A priority for the Allies was to seize a port so the vast army to be landed could be supplied. The Germans understood this and as aesult, the ports were heavily defended. The garisons were ordered to stand and fight. A substantisl part of the American force landing at Utah Beach headed north to take Cherbourg at the tip of the Contentin Peninsula. Cherbourg was the first important French port to fall to the Allies (June 27). The Germans managed, however, to destroy the port before surrendering.

Fighting in Normandy

Fighting for several weeks after D-Day was confined to the Normandy area. The most important inland objedtive for the D-Day invasion was Caen. This it was because Caen was a road junction with the most direct highway to Paris. Caen was the onjective of the British troops landing at Sword Beach. The Germans were well aware of the importance of Caen and it was well defended. The powerful German 21st Panzer Division was located near Caen. This division because of German confusion was not immeiately deployed against the landings and in the afternoon when it received orders to move toward the beeches it was engaged by Allied fighters. The division, however, played a key role in the defense of Caen, resisting repeated British and Canadians attacks. Thus the Allies under Montgomery in the east were heald up for weeks. Cherbourg at the tip of the Conteneau Peninsula was a key objective because of its important port. The Americans from Utah Beach cut off the Peninsula. The Germans in Cherbourg held out for a few weeks and did their best to destroy the port. The Germany thought that without a deepwater port that the Allies could not ammount a decisive military force in France. The Germans did not anticipate Mulberry. They also expected the German garrison to hold out longer than it did. General Sattler, deputy German commander, surendered June 27 bringing the end to directed German resistance on the Cotentin Peninsula, although some isolated German units around the city continued to hold out for a few days. Hitler ordered the garison to hold out to the last man. Few of the soldiers involved chose to do so. By July 1 all organized resistenced was ended. The Germans held the Allies at Normandy for several weeks, effectively using the hedgerows in the Bockage country to twart the American advances. After the fall of Cherbourg (June 27), the Normandy Bridgehead was complete. With Montgomery still stopped at Caen, Bradley began to focus on breaking out at the western end of the bridgehead on a line Carentan and Portbail. Bradley launched his offensive at the beginning of July with torrential rain in the middle of the Bockage country. Allied planners had failed to appreciate the potential tactical use of the fortress-like hedgerows in Normandy. The American offensive, however, soon bogged down.

Logistical Train

While the Germans held in Normandy, a huge logistical enterprise was building up a massive Allied army with emense capabilities. Even without a port the build-up went on. The American Mulberrry One was sestroyed in a storm. The British Mulberry Two held and assisted the landing of supplies. The Allies in the first 100 days after D-Day landed an incredible 2.2 million men, 450,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies. This was a force that the Germans could not begin to match and their situation was rendered untenable by the virtual complete lack of air support. The Germans had supply problems of their own. The Allied air campaign meant that the Germans could not effectively utilize the fine French rail system which the Allies were destroying piece by piece. This made it difficult to supply their defenses, let alone build up forces. And the Germans pressed in the East by the Red Army, the Germans had far fewer resources to commit. Opperation Bagration was destroying Army Group Center, the once powerful formation in the East.

Operation Goodwin: Caen (July 9)

The British were suposed to take Caen, but as this was the most direct route to Paris, the Germans concentrated their forces nd held Caen. This led to weeks of costly fighting in the Bokage county. The Germans held, but the building Allied forces severly streached the German forces. Finally the Allies prepared breakout. British and Canadian troops under Montgomery struck first with Operation Goodwin. It proved to be a costly battle. They finally captured Caen after a major air attack (July 9). They were unable to break the German lines, however, in part because the rubble created by the air attack in Caen slowed the advance and the Germans were able to regroup west of the city. The German forces were concentrated around Caen which weakened their perimeter to the south.

Operation Cobra: Breakout (July 25-26, 1944)

The British and Canadians hammaraed away a Caen, but it was in the West that the American offensive finally broke the through badly streached German lines in Normandy--Operation Cobra (July 25). A minth and a half of combat had battle attrited German strength. Once powerful Panzer divisions had been badly reduced. Replacements and new equipment was not being committed to the battle. The Allies on the other hand kept pouring men and equipment into the Normandy bridgehead. The Allied after weeks of costly fighting in the Bokage countty finally broke out from the Normandy beachhead at the end of July. The Bokage had favored the Germans who efficently used it to bottle growing Allied strength. The offensive named Operation Cobra finally broke through the badly streached German lines and into the flat French country side where they could put their superiority in numbers and mobility to full use. A concentrated carpet bombing shattered the vaunted Panzer Lehr Division. The Americans then pierced the German lines with armoured thrusts near St. L and then rapidly fanned out behind German lines. Patton's highly mobile Third Army was activated the sanme day Avranches was taken (August 1). While the Third Army's M-4 Sherman tanks were inferior to the German Panzers in terms of armor abd fire power, they were faster and much more numerous. They could not slug it out with the Germans one-to one, but they were perfect for a rapid advance behind enenmy lines. This was ideal for rapid maneur in the open terraine beyond the Normandy brokage country. Combined with Allied air power this made it impossible for the Germans to plug the gap and contain the American offensive.

German Mortain Offensive (August 7)

American units as part of Operation Cobra drove out of the Normany south into Brittany. Hitler determined to maintain his hold on France ordered a counter-attack--the Mortain offensive (Operation "Luttich"). It would be the last German effort to hold on to France. He ordered General Hausser's 7th Army to drive west and cut off the Americans. Hausser was ordered to attack from Mortain in Brittany toward Avranches and the Atlantic, cutting of the Americans seeping into the French countryside as a result of Operation Cobra. Hausser struck (August 7). The Germany Army, however, was no longer an overpowering force. They did have very effective tanks, but not very many. The German tanks were superior, but unlike 1940, the infantry now had had effective anti-tank weapons. And thanks to Ultra, the Allies were not totally surprised. Nor did the Germans have the critical air support needed for an effective offensive. The Germans advanced west, but within hours were stopped far short of the coast. They attacked with inadequate forces and simply did not have adequate reserves to exploit a break in the Amerucan lines. The result was that it simply put the German Panzers further west and in a more exposed position to the developing Allied encirclement. The Americans continued to attack behind the German lines. The German commitment of force to the far west of their position put them into a very vulnerable position with the Americans rapidly moving to close the developing pocket.

Brest

An important part of the Allied invasion plan was to take ports which could be used to nsupply the Allied armies. The divisions being landed in Mormandy required enormous quantities of supplies. Allied divisions, especiallhy the Americans, required far great quantities od supplies than compsrable Germsan divisions. Brest was one of the most important French ports. For 4 years the Germans used it to support U-boat operations in the North Atlantic. The Germans defended the nothern approaches out of Normandy, but could not drfend the south. Supplies were a major problem after the Mulberries were destroyed by a storm. This and the destrution of the port facililities ar Cherbourg made it even more important for the Allies to get their hands on Brest. Brest as the only other port the Allies seemed capable of taking from Normandy. The inability of the Germans to maintain a southern defense resulted in the Allies breaking into the the Brittany peninsula. This was carroed out by Patton's Third Army as part of Operation Cobra. The US VIII Corps was diverted into Brittany to take Brest and secure the northern flank of the breakthrough. This was a massive diversion of resources and Bradly has been criticized for the decesion. The Germans on Britainty retreated into fixed defenses arounf Breast where supplies had been stockpiled. The resulting Battle for Brest inbvoilved some of the fiercest battles and most costly fighting conducted as part of Operation Cobra.

Battle of the Falaise Pocket (August 12-22)

The American breakout and the aborted German Mortain offensive drive to the coast led directly to the battle for Falaise. Falaise is on the river Ante, a tributary of the river Dives. It is about 20 miles southeast of Caen. Thus after the British and Cad Canadians took Caen, Falaise emerged as a perfect place for the British and American asrmirs to meet and trap the renmaining German forces in Normandy. Falaise was notable in French and British history as the birthplace of William I the Conqueror who invaded Englanhd and founded the Norman dynaty. After the failure of their Mortain offensive, the Germans attempted to extricate what was left of the battered firces in Normandy. . This set up the battle of the "Falaise Pocket". The Americans moved to trap the Germans in a pocket forming around Falaise. The Allies encircled and destroyed two Germann armies, killing 10,000 Germans and taking 50,000 prisoners. The Allies, however, failed to close the Falaise pocket in time to complelety destroy the German forces. The Germans managed to slip through the Allied encirclement. The Americans complained that Montgomery did not act decisively enough. The British insisted that they faced stiffer resistance. Unable to plug the German retreat, the Allies hammered Falaise by air. Two-thirds of the town was destroyed The towb was finally taken by a combined force of Canadian and Polish troops. Falaise was largely restored after the war.e.

Operation Dragoon: Invasion of Southern France (August 15)

Two weeks after the breakout from Normandy began and before the battle at Falaise was over, the Allies struck in southern France. The Americans and British disagreed over the invsion of southern France, oiginally called Operation Anvil. It was renamed Dragoon--reportedly because the Americans dragooned Churchill into it. The final decession was made after the fall of Rome (June 4) and then the success of Opperation Cobra (July 25-26), the successful Allied breakout from the Normandy bridgehead. The U.S. 6th Army Group (variously known as the Southern Group of Armies and Dragoon Force) was established in Corsica and activated (August 1, 1944). It was commanded by Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers and included both American and Free French units. The Allies landed on the French Mediterranean coast between Marseilles and Nice (August 15). By this time the Allies were closing in on Paris and destroying the principal German formations in France, the 7th Army and 5th Panzer Army. The Germans had moved their limited forces in southern France north in an effort to maintain their Normandy defense perimeter. As a result, unlike Normandy there were no pitched battles. The German troops in the south had one orimarry goal, to get back to the Reich. The German hold on France after 4 long years was broken. T

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Created: 11:51 AM 10/2/2011
Last updated: 9:08 AM 1/3/2017