Amy Klose
Mariah Wilson

The Normandy Campaign: Operation Cobra

" Operation Cobra, from the beginning, was designed only as a limited attack. Its main purpose was to drive a hole in the German defenses west of Saint-Lo. If that breakthrough worked, a deeper penetration into enemy territory by a large armored force would follow, thrusting deep into the German's rear, toward Coutances" (Green 39-41).

After the initial invasion at Normandy, the Allies' progress in the Second World War was suddenly slowed. German resistance was heavy in France. U.S. First Army General Omar Bradley was faced with a war of attrition that had no foreseeable outcome. His attempts to breakout of the Bocage were met with blunting German force. Two days after a German Panzer attack on the First Army, Bradley decided to use a plan originally proposed by Third Army General George Patton that was to be known as Operation Cobra (Green 39).


P38 fighter
(Vector model by Sebastian Torres.
Flash animation by Sam Calderon)


Operation Cobra was the code name given to the attack launched as part of the Normandy Invasion, an attempt by the allies to overtake German troops in France. Stretching over the summer months (June to August) of 1944, the Normandy campaign began with the allies landing on Normandy's beaches (Omaha, Gold, Juno, Utah) and slowly working their way inland, towards Paris, where they hoped to be able to encircle the Germans entirely (see the Falaise Pocket).

Operation Cobra was headed by General Bradley. It would be General Bradley's third attempt in the past month to get his troops out of the Contentin peninsula. In order to do so, it was necessary for infantry to break through the German lines between the rivers Vire and Lozon, at opposite sides of the peninsula (Keegan 29).

Originally, Operation Cobra had been planned for July 24, but the attack was postponed due to bad weather until midday on July 25. Unfortunately, some of the bombers were launched on the 24th before they received word to stop, and dropped bombs on American infantry. Then, on the actual day of the attack, some bombs were again accidentally dropped on U.S. troops due to badly marked targets.

Despite the misfiring of the 24th, Bradley and Patton reluctantly continued on with the attack. They feared that the element of surprise was lost by the premature bombings, but they were still successful.

"The breakthrough on the American front, when it came, developed with bewildering speed" (Hastings 50). They began with a series of "carpet bombing raids" (Eisenhower 39), followed by a two thousand bomber raid on German troops outside of Saint-Lo. After this, the 7th corps attacked west of Saint-Lo, while the 8th attacked between Periers and Lessay, thus covering the entire length of the peninsula. Bradley only asked for 800 yards to buffer his troops during the attack, though the air force recommended a minimum of 3,000 to prevent Allied bombs from hitting their own men. "Bradley. . . was prepared to accept friendly-fire losses to achieve his objective" (Perret 311). Friendly-fire deaths did indeed occur on the 25th at the start of the Operation, resulting in the deaths of 500 soldiers and a Lieutenant.

The beginning aerial bombardment turned out to be a successful tactic: Bradley had weakened the German front to the point where they could not possibly bring attack upon the American troops, all they could do is try to hold on to the land that was quickly slipping through their fingers. Ten days before Operation Cobra was launched, German General Rommel had warned Hitler that "the moment is fast approaching when our hard-pressed defenses will crack" (Alderley). That time had come.

"The Führer's insane strategic delusions now ensured the destruction of his army in France. Against the passionate advice of his generals, he insisted that an armoured counter-attack should be launched westward through Mortain, aiming to cut the American line at Avranches. On 7 July, almost every surviving German armoured unit in Normandy was committed to battle on the Mortain from against the American 30th and 9th divisions" (Hastings 51).

Bradley had 750 tanks and fifteen divisions lined up against the German's 150 tanks and nine divisions. On the morning of July 26, the 1st Armored Division advanced in their Sherman tanks, preceded by an accolade from medium bombers. Meanwhile, General Rose had opted to take a courageous night advance in order to line his tanks up to the east of the advancement, to look over the breakthrough and provide any needed protection from the side.

"For all its mutual recriminations and cover-ups, Cobra worked. It was the first successful carpet bombing in history. When the VII Corps advanced, it ran into a brittle crust of German resistance, but this soon collapsed. By July 31 American troops were charging out of the Contentin" (Perret 312).

The Allied troops pushed onwards, through Saint-Lo, causing the fearful German troops to begin retreating in a disorderly jumble. The Allies there gained a base from whiich the First and Third Armies could drive out in oppisite directions, toward Brest and Paris (Marshall 423). By the evening of July 27, Operation Cobra and pushed the German line back fifteen miles, and Bradley was able to acknowledge that he had achieved great victory. Still, though, he continued to push the undertaking to achieve all it possibly could by bringing out Patton and his newly formed third army to join in the advancement. On July 30, infantry had reached Avranches, located at the end of the peninsula.

From this position, the Allies could begin to surround German troops by driving into Brittany, and then turning left to encircle the Germans in Normandy from the rear. Operation Cobra had proven to be successful, and had provided the Allies with the means to finally overcome German troops in France.

Chronology 1943-45, from Marshall, 605 to 608.

1943

l2 Jan US force lands in Amchitka in Aleutians without opposition.
14-23 Jan British-US conference of political and military leaders in Casablanca.
l2 Feb MacArthur's headquarters issues ELKTON plan.
4 Mar Battle of Bismarck Sea ends; decisive victory for Allies.
12-l5 Mar Pacific Military Conference in Washington to plan operations against Japanese in Pacific in 1943.
23 Apr Allies issue directive for establishment of COSSAC (Chief of Staff Supreme Allied Commander) under Lt Gen Frederick E. Morgan to start planning for cross-Channel attack.
11-30 May US amphibious force attacks Attu in Aleutians.
12-25 May TRIDENT conference in Washington. Plan for HUSKY (invasion of Sicily) approved.
30 Jun Operation CARTWHEEL opened.
10 Jul Invasion of Sicily.
25 Jul Mussolini overthrown as Italian dictator.
14-24 Aug British-US conference (QUADRANT) in Quebec. Date for cross-Channel attack (OVERLORD) set for 1May44. Establishment of Southeast Asia Command (SEAC) under Lord Louis Mountbatten.
3 Sep Force under Montgomery lands in southern Italy. Italians sign short-term armistice to become effective 8 Sep.
9 Sep US Fifth Army lands at Salerno.
12 Sep Australian force occupies Salamaua in New Guinea.
l9 Sep Sardinia surrenders without fighting.
2 Oct Australian force takes Finschhafen.
19-30 Oct Conference of US, British, and Soviet foreign ministers in Moscow.
22 Nov-7 Dec Allied conferences at Cairo, Tehran, Cairo.
28 Nov Marines secure Tarawa at heavy cost.
7 Dec Eisenhower named Supreme Commander for cross-Channel attack.
26 Dec Main attack on New Britain opens with assault on Cape Gloucester.

1944

22 Jan Fifth Army launches invasion of Italian mainland at Anzio
(SHINGLE).
3l Jan-4 Feb US amphibious force assaults and takes Kwajalein in Marshal ls.
24 Mar Japanese counterattack on Bougainville repulsed; last enemy offensive in the Solomons.
22 Apr Allied forces began landings in Hollandia (New Guinea).
28 Apr Sec of Navy Frank Knox dies; succeeded by James V. Forrestal.
4 Jun Rome falls to Allies.
6 Jun Allied landings in Normandy.
15 Jun China-based B-29 bombers make first bombing attack on
Japanese home islands, hitting targets on Kyushu. Amphibious landing on Saipan led by Marine Gen Holland Smith.
10-20 Jun Battle of Philippine Sea; major defeat for Japanese.
23 Jun Russians open offensive on central front.
27 Jun Cherbourg surrenders.
9 Ju1 Saipan secured.
18 Jul US forces take St. L6.
Gen Hideki Tojo's cabinet falls in Tokyo.
20 Jul Attempt to kill Hitler fails.
21 Jul US landings on Guam.
25 Jul Operation COBRA to break out of Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy launched.
30 Jul
Landings on Japanese-held Vogelkop Peninsula in New Guinea.
10 Aug Japanese opposition on Guam ends.
l5 Aug US Seventh Army and French naval, airborne, and ground elements begin landings in southern France (Operation DRAGOON).
l9 Aug Resistance forces rise in Paris. Germans sign truce giving them until 23Aug to evacuate city.
25 Aug French 2d Armored Division under US V Corps command enters Paris.
4 Sep British forces drive into Antwerp.
8 Sep Maj Gen Patrick Hurley becomes special representative to Chiang Kai-shek.
9 Sep US units enter Holland.
l0 Sep Forces from southern France link up with OVERLORD forces near Dijon.
11 Sep US patrol enters Germany from Luxembourg-first allied force to enter from west.
12-l6 Sep OCTAGON conference of British and US leaders in Quebec. i4Sep Russian troops enter suburbs of Warsaw.
18 Oct Stilwell relieved of command and returned to Washing- ton. Lt Gen A. C. Wedemeyer subsequendy assumes command of China theater.
20 Oct Belgrade falls to Russians and Marshal Tito's forces. US Sixth Army invades Leyte.
23-26 Oct Battle of Leyte Gulf; decisive defeat of Japanese fleet.
18 Nov Liberation of Greece completed.
10 Dec France and Soviet Union sign treaty of alliance.
16 Dec Germans counterattack in Ardennes.
18 Dec Soviet forces reach Hungarian-Czech border.
22 Dec Gen A. C. MacAuliffe rejects German demand for surrender of Bastogne.
26 Dec US Third Army armored units break through to Bastogne.

1945

1 Jan Germans attack US Seventh Army in Colmar area.
9 Jan Landings by Gen Krueger's Sixth Army in Lingayen Gulf
in Luzon.
l2 Jan Soviet forces open winter offensive.
15 Jan Initial convoy over Ledo Road reaches Myitkyina.
17 Jan Russians occupy Warsaw.
30 Jan-9 Feb ARGONAUT conference of British, US, and Soviet leaders at Yalta. (Preliminary British-US conference at Malta- designated CRICKET-to 20 Feb.)
4 Feb First Ledo convoy reaches Kunming. US Eighth Army begins attack on Manila.
5 Feb Russians reach Oder River within 30 miles of Berlin.
l8 Feb Red forces capture Budapest.
l9 Feb Marines land on Iwo Jima.
23 Feb US Ninth Army and First Army units cross Roer River.
3 Mar Japanese resistance in Manila ends.
7 Mar US forces capture Ludendorif Bridge over Rhine at Remagen.
11 Mar US Eighth Army forces land on Mindanao. i6Mar Iwo Jima declared secure.
23 Mar Montgomery's forces cross Rhine.
24 Mar US Ninth Army crosses Rhine.
l2 Apr President Roosevelt dies; succeeded by President Tniii
18 Apr German resistance ends in Ruhr.
22 Apr Russians enter eastern suburbs of Berlin,
26 Apr Formal meeting of US First Army units with Russia~ Torgau.
28 Apr Mussolini executed by Italian partisans.
29 Apr Germans in Italy surrender effective May 2.
30 Apr Hitler commits suicide. Adm Doenitz becomes Reichsfuhrer.
2 May Russians complete clearance of Berlin.
7 May Representatives of Doenitz surrender to Allies at ReimL
8 May Prod aimed as V-E Day by Truman.

Works Cited

Boyne, Walter J. Clash of Wings-World War II in the Air. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Eisenhower, John S.D. The Bitter Woods. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969.

Forty, George. Patton's Third Army at War. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.

Green, Micheal and Gladys. Patton Operation Cobra and Beyond. Wisconsin: MBI Publishing Co., 1998.

Hastings, Max. Victoy in Europe. Photographs by George Stevens. New York: Little Brown, 1985.

Keegan, John. Normandy: 1944. Available at: http://normandy.eb.com/week4/breakout.html

Marshall, George C. Organizer of Victory 1943 - 1945. New York: Viking Press, 1973.

Normandy Contentin. Channel Islands. Middlesex: Public Limited Company, 1989.

Perret,Geoffrey. Winged Victory: The Army Forces in World War II. New York: Random House, 1993.

The Valour and The Horror. Available at: http://www.valourandhorror.com/DB/BACK/Cobra.htm