Battle of the Hedgerows

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Despite Allied success in getting ashore in Normandy, the lodgment secured by the beginning of July was much smaller than had been anticipated. Because the British seemed stalled before Caen, Bradley’s First Army initiated on July 3 the offensive that became known as the battle of the hedgerows. The hedgerows are walls, half earth and half hedge, that enclose the tiny fields in the Cotentin, the region south of Cherbourg. As each of four American corps launched an attack in turn, the Americans struck across a waterlogged and hedgerow-laced area that was perfectly suited to defense. Confined in a relatively small sector and confronted with difficult terrain and inadequate roads, the Americans fought an enemy favored by endless lines of natural fortifications (the hedgerows) and aided by daily rains which negated Allied tactical air support and reduced observation. Though inferior in numbers and deficient in supplies and equipment, the Germans inflicted 40,000 casualties on the First Army, which gained only a few miles of ground. The climax of the battle occurred on July 18, when the 19th Corps at last captured St.-Lo.

The British meanwhile had thwarted dangerous armored counterattacks at the end of June, and then secured half of Caen by launching a massive attack on July 8 supported by heavy bombers. This was an unusual use of aircraft normally employed against strategic targets far in the enemy rear. In this attack, 460 planes dropped 2,300 tons of high-explosive bombs in 40 minutes. Following the aerial attack, British and Canadian ground troops, though hampered by bomb craters and debris-clogged roads, reached the Orne River, which flows through Caen. Ten days later, on July 18, General Montgomery launched a similar attack, code named Goodwood. After 2,100 planes dropped more than 8,000 tons of high explosive, British and Canadian ground troops advanced from Caen toward Falaise. Despite high optimism for a decisive penetration of the enemy defense line, the attack carried for only 6 miles before bogging down.

Rommel had on July 17 been eliminated from the battle when an Allied plane strafed his staff car and forced it into a ditch. Suffering a brain concussion, he was taken to a hospital. Kluge assumed his place, commanding both the theater headquarters and Army Group B. Three days later, on July 20, a conspiracy among German officers almost succeeded in assassinating the furer and gaining control of the government with the aim of ending the war. From this point on, Hitler became ever more suspicious of his subordinates. He eventually forced Rommel, who was implicated in the plot, to commit suicide. He took stronger control of battlefield operations. Though the plot had no visible effect on the campaign, the miracle of Hitler’s survival impressed the German people and gave Hitler’s unilateral direction of the war even greater strength.

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