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Mason Lopez
Mason Lopez

A Front Too Far: Normandy

The Allied victory is often passed off as the result of superiority in firepower, air strength and supplies. This is a simplistic interpretation. Right from the start, success also hinged on the morale and capabilities of the frontline troops, especially the infantry, who would bear the burden of the fighting. And nowhere was this more vital a factor than in British Second Army, fighting in the east of the Allied lodgement area.

A Front Too Far: Normandy

Failure to breakout quickly from the bridgehead meant Montgomery needed to build up his own forces more quickly than German reinforcements could arrive. As the front congealed it was clear that his focus on Caen was drawing in the best German formations to its defence, thus facilitating the progress of American forces further west. But in so doing he was committing Second Army to a slogging match with the best of the German Army in Normandy, including nearly all the available Panzerdivisions. With finite resources of manpower available, such a battle of attrition could not be sustained forever.

It was therefore crucial that operations made as much use of Allied firepower as possible. Typically, attacks were preceded by huge barrages from a combination of massed artillery, warships offshore, and even heavy bombers. Then the infantry went in behind rolling barrages. Tanks were most successfully used when they were well integrated with the infantry for mutual support - not leading the attacks, but helping to 'shoot the infantry in'. Assaults on a narrow front allowed maximum concentration of firepower, and enabled follow-up battalions to quickly take over from the assault troops to preserve momentum.

Unable to outflank Caen, Montgomery was in the end forced to take it by direct assault from the north. Operation 'Charnwood' went in on 8 July, on a wider front this time to dissipate the effects of German mortar fire. It was preceded by a massive aerial bombardment of German positions north of the city, which did little other than reduce much of Caen to ruins. More successful were the guns of HMS Rodney, which broke up a German counterattack. As usual, the infantry battalions took heavy losses. The three day assault liberated much of the city but resulted in 3,817 British and Canadian casualties. Some battalions suffered their heaviest losses of the campaign.

'Goodwood' may not have been the breakout so desperately wanted, but it kept the bulk of the German forces in that sector. So when US forces launched Operation 'Cobra' on 25 July they faced only eleven weak divisions with limited fighting power. 'Cobra' broke the front open southwards from Saint-Lô, and American forces began a headlong advance westwards into Brittany and eastwards towards the Seine. The Germans had kept Allied forces bottled up for six weeks. But in so doing they had reduced themselves to remnants, devoid of reserves and unable to withstand the breakout when it came.

The infantry were carried alongside the tanks in new armoured personnel carriers. At last, these most vulnerable of assets were being afforded a measure of battlefield protection and mobility. The first phase of 'Totalise' achieved a penetration of the German front five miles wide and four miles deep at a cost of only 380 casualties. German counterattacks were beaten off, but the advance then slowed, largely owing to the inexperience of the Canadian and Polish armoured Divisions and the increasingly desperate German defence.

At times, British formations exhibited more caution than may have been warranted. Troops were often only too ready to 'go to ground' and call in artillery support even when facing fairly limited opposition. They were never as adept at exploiting local successes as the Germans, who excelled at quickly retaking ground. Montgomery himself urged his commanders to exhibit greater drive and flexibility, and some were sacked for failing to do so. Many German troops and commanders fought with a zeal and fanaticism alien to the citizen soldiers of Second Army. Montgomery's preference for properly planned and supported set-piece attacks was born of an understanding of all these factors, but against such a skilled and determined enemy casualties were bound to be high among the frontline troops. What mattered was to win the battle at tolerable cost.

The European Theater of Operations (ETO) during World War II is generally regarded as the area of military confrontation between the Allied powers and Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The European Theater encompassed the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Eastern Front, Western Front, and Arctic areas of operation.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post: Mr. President, Secretary Dulles said in his speech last night that the National Security Council and yourself had made a decision, a basic decision he called it, that in the future we would confront any possible aggression by what he called, and I quote, "a great capacity to retaliate instantly by means and at places of our own choosing." Could you elucidate on that somewhat for us, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know the exact details, but at the meetings of leaders, the general provisions of these bills were placed in front of them. That does not mean to commit them to any complete prior and detailed agreement, but they were all certainly shown to them. 041b061a72


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