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
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.
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 enemys 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
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
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].
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].
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 Soldiers Story. New York City: Henry
Holt and Co., 1951.
Ingersoll, Ralph. Top Secret. New York City: Harcourt, Brace