Jason Iplixian

HEDGEROWS OF NORMANDY

“The word is difficult to translate, but broadly it means mixed woodland and pasture terrain, with numerous winding side-roads and lanes bounded on both sides by high levees or banks topped by tall, thick hedgerows which greatly limit visibility. The bocage is therefore much more suitable for defensive infantry action than for an offensive operation requiring fast and effective deployment of armoured divisions” [Belchem 24]. 

The major German counterattack against the Americans and the British was composed of six thousand German soldiers,  along with infantry, artillery, tanks, and self-propelled guns, all on the move towards Normandy to stop the invasion from progressing. “The Germans came in by bits and pieces because they were improvising, having been caught with no plans for reinforcing Normandy. Further, the Allied air forces had badly hampered German movement from the start” [The Victors 197]. 



Assault troop uniform, D-Day.


OPERATION GOODWOOD 

This operation was designed by the British General Montgomery, and although it managed to secure a few miles of the bocage country, those miles were no compensation for the heavy losses inflicted by the Germans--namely including 401 tanks and 2,600 casualties [Citizen Soldiers 58]. It had taken Montgomery 7,000 tons of free-falling bombs to move those seven miles, yet even after all the bombardments, most German soldiers were able to come up out  of hiding and continue their defense. 

GERMAN TACTICS AND ADVANTAGES

One particularly favorite German tactic was to drive an armored vehicle, such as a tank, “in front of the line, to draw fire so as to locate the enemy’s position” [Citizen Soldiers 61]. Another tactic used by the Germans was letting the allies come forward and cross the hedge, and then shoot them dead. “The Germans also pre-sited mortars and artillery on the single gaps that provided the only entrances into the fields. Behind the hedgerows, they dug rifle pits and tunneled openings for machine-gun positions in each corner” [The Victors 191]. 

The reason why the Germans found the Bocage more manageable than the British and the Americans was that they were fighting on the defensive side, and many German soldiers had been trained in such terrain for a period before World War II. One Private Adolf Rogosch of the 353rd Division recalled: “We trained hard, throwing hand grenades, getting to know the ground. The lines of hedges crisscrossing one another played tricks on your eyes. We trained to fight as individuals” [The Victors 191]. 

In general, the Germans were better equipped than the British. They had more mortars--not to mention heavier ones, far superior machine guns, easier-to-throw hand grenades, gunpowder which produced less flash and smoke, and a multi-barreled projector called the ‘Nebelwerfer’. Also, the German ‘panzerfaust’, the far more advanced counterpart of the bazooka, which was much simpler to operate, launched a much better, and a much bigger bomb, with  greater penetrating power. Even the allies agreed that the German 88 was without doubt the best artillery piece of the war;” “a high-velocity trajectory weapon that could fire armor-piercing shells which were “faster than the speed of sound” [Citizen Soldiers 62-63].

The German paratroopers, the ‘Fallschirmjaeger’ “were perhaps the best-armed infantrymen in the world in 1944. “So in any encounter between equal numbers of Americans and Fallschirmjaeger, the Germans had from six to twenty times as much firepower” [The Victors 194]. There were also about twenty-six divisions, some armored, in Normandy, while the German Fifteenth Army was still intact in the Pas de Calais, meaning the German ability to reinforce its army was greater than the ability of the Allies [The Victors 210]. As for the British, their tanks, without infantry support, were unable to significantly progress at Caen. Also, the bad weather due to the rainiest June/July of Normandy until then, allowed the Germans to move their supplies and reinforcements through the rain and fog, unnoticed by the British [The Victors 216]. 



After two Panzer divisions were sent over to the American sector from the British, British General Montgomery was left to face five Panzer divisions which the Germans wanted to take out of service for reserve purposes and replace them with infantry [Bradley 343].

PROBLEMS, DIFFICULTIES

The amount of German infantry in the bocage country was thinning out. Every eleven casualties at the front-line saw just replacement. “By mid-July, the Wehrmacht in Normandy had lost 117,000 men and received 10,000 replacements [Citizen Soldiers 68]. The Seventh Army was acquiring pitiful amounts of replacements who were inexperienced and poorly trained [Citizen Soldiers 70] Still, the Germans had more men and tanks than the facing British at Caen. Food rations for the Germans were much better, and more abundant than their medical supplies. Concentrations of supplies at the front-line were necessary, since the Germans had no power at the time to make a defense-in-depth [Citizen Soldiers 68-69].

Morale in the German officers and soldiers was low, especially due to the lack of replacements and ammunitions. Corporal Adolf Hohenstein of the 276th Division said of the morale in his squad: “The lack of any success at all affected the men very badly. You could feel the sheer fear growing. We would throw ourselves to the ground at the slightest sound, and many men were saying that we should never leave Normandy alive” [Citizen Soldiers 71].


Works Cited

Ambrose, Steven E. Citizen Soldiers. The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945. New York City: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1997. 56-76.

The Victors. Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II. New York City: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1998. 188-219.

Belchem, General Major David. Victory in Normandy. London: Chatto & Windus Ltd., 1981].

Bradley, Omar N. A Soldier’s Story. New York City: Henry Holt and Co., 1951.

Work Consulted

Ingersoll, Ralph. Top Secret. New York City: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 
1946.