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   "Fighting in Normandy" from Combat Lessons, No. 4

A 1944 article "Fighting in Normandy" from Combat Lessons -- Rank and file in combat: What they're doing; How they do it. The purpose of Combat Lessons was to give officers and enlisted men the benefit of battle experiences. The article discusses the unique problems of fighting in the Normandy hedgerows.    


Bucking the Hedgerows   The terrain in the area selected for the initial penetration of French soil was generally level or gently sloping. However, it was broken up into a "crazy quilt" pattern of small fields separated by "hedgerows." These consisted of an earthen mound or wall 8 to 10 feet in width and 4 to 6 feet in height, covered with a scrub undergrowth.

Along the top of this wall grew rows of trees. Forming an important part of the obstacle thus created was the ditch which ran along one or both sides of the mound. The roads, narrow and winding, ran between these hedgerows, and offered the defenders many advantageous positions for ambuscades or surprise attacks on advancing foot-troops and armor. Observation was normally limited from one hedgerow to the next, although an occasional structure, such as the church tower in a village would widen the horizon.

These peculiarities of terrain led to the development of special operational techniques in the application of tactical principles. Quoted below are some experience reports, from the battlefield, of hedgerow fighting.

[Section of Typical Normandy Hedgerow]
Cross Section of Typical Normandy Hedgerow.

The German Defense   Ever since August 1940 the Germans have been studying and organizing the beach defenses of the French coast. They are past masters of the art of utilizing the terrain to advantage.

As set forth in a letter from the Commanding General, U. S. XIX Corps: "The Germans have been thorough in their defense. Their weapons are normally sited to provide long fields of fire. The 88-mm dual purpose gun, the Tiger tank with its 88-mm gun, or the Panther tank which has a 75-mm high-velocity gun, normally takes you under fire at ranges up to 2,000 yards. All weapons are well dug in. The mobility of their tanks is often sacrificed in order to secure the protection of a ditch or the walls of a building.

Sniper Trouble   "The German soldiers had been given orders to stay in their positions and, unless you rooted them out, they would stay, even though your attack had passed by or over them. Some of their snipers stayed hidden for 2 to 5 days after a position had been taken and then popped up suddenly with a rifle or AT grenade launcher to take the shot for which they had been waiting.

"We found fire crackers with slow burning fuse left by snipers and AT gun crews in their old positions when they moved. These exploded at irregular intervals, giving the impression that the position was still occupied by enemy forces.

"High losses among tank commanders have been caused by German snipers. Keep buttoned up, as the German rifleman concentrates on such profitable targets. This is especially true in villages. After an action the turret of the commanders tank is usually well marked with rifle bullets.

Enemy in Ambush   "On several occasions the Germans have allowed small patrols of ours to enter villages and wander around unmolested, but when stronger forces were sent forward to occupy the village they would encounter strong resistance. The Germans will permit a patrol to gather erroneous information in order to ambush the follow-up troops acting on the patrols' false report."

German Weapons   One infantry regimental commander has given a good detailed description of the defensive organization: "We found that the enemy employed very few troops with an extremely large number of automatic weapons. All personnel and automatic weapons were well dug in along the hedgerows in excellent firing positions. In most cases the approaches to these positions were covered by mortar fire. Also additional fire support was provided by artillery field pieces of 75-mm, 88-mm, and 240-mm caliber firing both time and percussion fire. Numerous snipers located in trees, houses, and towers were used.

Our Attack   "The most successful method of dealing with these defensive positions was the closely coordinated attack of infantry and tanks, with artillery and 4.2-inch chemical mortars ready to assist where needed. The use of these supporting weapons was severely handicapped by the limited observation."


Teamwork the Key   The great emphasis placed on the importance of tank-infantry teamwork is reflected in the many reports and training instructions that have been issued by combat commanders. For example the Commanding General, VII Corps published the following narrative of such an action in a training memorandum: "The capture of the high ground north of the MONTEBOURG-QUINEVILLE ROAD was accomplished by the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry, closely supported by the 70th Tank Battalion, which was operating at a reduced strength of 18 tanks.

"Upon receiving the order for the attack at 1830, 13 June, the tank battalion commander immediately initiated a route reconnaissance to a suitable assembly area and arranged for a conference between his key officers and those of the infantry battalion.

Elements of the Plan   "At this conference the following essential elements to effect coordination were agreed upon:

"1. H-hour would be at 0930.

"2. An artillery preparation would be fired from H-15 minutes to H-hour.

"3. When the artillery fire lifted, the tank mortar platoon, from positions immediately in rear of the Line of Departure, would fire on all known and suspected AT gun locations.

"4. Each of the two infantry assault companies would be directly supported by six tanks. The remaining six tanks would be in general support.

"5. All tanks would be held 800 yards in rear of the LD, moving forward in time to cross the line with the infantry at H-hour.

The Advance   "The attack jumped off on time, the tanks advancing very slowly, spraying the hedgerows with machine-gun fire. The infantry advanced abreast of the tanks, mopping up as they proceeded. The supporting tank company remained about 500 to 600 yards in rear of the assault companies and covered their forward movement by overhead fire.

"The objective was seized at 1500 after an advance of over 2,000 yards against a well-organized resistance which utilized both open and concrete emplacements."

Corp Commanders Comment:   In discussing this attack the Corps Commander made the following comments on infantry-tank cooperation:

"Tank companies require at least 3 hours and tank battalions a minimum of 5 hours of daylight in which to prepare for an attack.

"Tank assembly positions should be selected well in rear of the Line of Departure.

"Tank officers and infantry commanders should discuss and arrange all details of their cooperative effort by personal conference at some prearranged location. If possible this location should allow visual reconnaissance of the zone of activity.

"The tanks should not be advanced to the LD until the time of the attack.

"Artillery observers should be with the leading wave of tanks.

"Radio communication between the infantry CP and the tanks should be maintained.

"The speed of the tanks should conform to the infantry rate of advance. Gaps should not be allowed to develop between the two elements.

"The infantry can assist the tanks in passing through hedgerows by protecting them from hostile AT personnel using AT grenades or rockets.

"In the absence of definite targets forward infantry elements should fire at the nearest cover to the front and flanks. Rifle fire directed along the lower structures of friendly tanks will discourage enemy use of magnetic mines.

"Enemy AT guns firing at our tanks should be immediately smothered by our mortar and automatic-weapons fire, thus forcing the gun crews to take cover and permitting the tanks to outflank and destroy the enemy guns.

"Tanks should be employed on both sides of hedges when advancing along a hedgerow.

"If at all possible tanks should avoid roads during the attack.

"The tanks in general support should mop up any positions which are bypassed by the first wave of tanks.

"Once the final objective is reached the tanks should immediately withdraw to a predetermined rally point. If they remain with the infantry they will attract heavy enemy artillery fire which will seriously interfere with the infantry reorganization."

Limited Objective   A letter from Headquarters, XIX Corps, stresses the importance of the limited objective in controlling the combined infantry-tank action: "The major objective given in corps, division, and even regimental plans and orders is reached by a series of limited-objective attacks by infantry and tank platoons and companies. Thus the designation of the major objective should be considered as indicating an axis of advance and an ultimate goal for the smaller assault units. Here in NORMANDY the normal objective of each attack is the next hedgerow where there will be a pause for reorganization and for planning the next advance. Keep the distance to be traversed short so that the tanks will not outstrip the infantry, thus losing the close support that is mutually necessary to make the fight effective. It is very desirable whenever conditions permit that each limited objective be visible from the line of departure.

Personal Reconnaissance   "The closely coordinated team play that is called for in hedgerow fighting requires a maximum of personal reconnaissance. The key to success in each fight from hedgerow to hedgerow is personal reconnaissance by the commanders concerned."

Bulldozer Tanks   An infantry battalion commander wrote from NORMANDY: "The light and medium tank equipped with a bulldozer blade was successfully used to plow through the hedgerows, cutting openings through which the other tanks would file to fan out and cover the next field. The steep banks which line the roads would be cut down at predetermined crossing points."

Fighting Infantry   Infantry Regimental Commander, NORMANDY: "Fire and movement is still the only sound way to advance your infantry in daylight fighting. Build up a good strong base of fire with automatic rifles and light machine guns. The heavy machine guns are much more effective, but it is difficult to keep them up with the advance. Use your 60-mm mortars to deepen and thicken your covering fire. When you are all set, cut loose with all youve got to keep Jerrys head down while the riflemen close in from the flanks and clean him out.

[Tankdozer vs. Hedgerow]

Hedgerow Hints   "Because of the limited range of observation, scouts tended to operate too close to their units. They should try to keep at least one hedgerow ahead of the remainder of the squad.

"Riflemen still have a tendency to wait for a definite, visible target before shooting. Each man should cover with fire any assigned sector which he believes occupied. Only then will he provide the needed protection to his comrades on the move.

"Avoid the areas in the vicinity of large trees when digging in. Enemy artillery fire in these trees will cause tree bursts with the same effect as time fire."

Hedgerow Explosives   Observers Report, NORMANDY: "The engineers played their part in the tank-infantry team. The sketches show graphically how the closely coordinated tank-infantry-engineer team worked in one of our divisions.

"The tank would place covering fire on the far hedge from a position behind the hedge to be breached. Under this fire the infantry would move into the field ahead to cover the engineer operations. The engineers would place explosive charges to breach the hedge during the infantry advance.

"When the tank fire had to stop to avoid endangering our own infantry, the tank would momentarily withdraw, and the charges would be detonated. The team would then move forward to the next hedgerow to repeat the performance. It was found that two charges of 50 pounds each placed as shown were adequate to breach any type of hedgerow."

[Hedgerow Explosives 1]
[Hedgerow Explosives 2]
[Hedgerow Explosives 3]

Lean on the Artillery Preparation   Commanding General, 79th Division, NORMANDY: "Heavy artillery preparation fires, terrifically expensive in ammunition, have been wasted because they were not closely followed up by the attacking infantry. Remember these supporting fires do not destroy the enemy but merely force him underground for a brief period. You must be on top of him when he pops up again."

The Useful 4.2   Infantry Battalion Commander, NORMANDY: "The 4.2-inch chemical mortar has proved to be a wonderful close-support weapon. Captured prisoners stated that they feared it more than artillery shell because they could not hear the projectile. The Germans have shown a marked dislike for WP, and on many occasions a few rounds, thrown in their hedgerow positions have caused their precipitate withdrawal.

"We fired the mortars like artillery pieces, using forward observers with the assault rifle companies. The mortars did their best work at ranges of 1,500 to 2,000 yards, but on occasion they have done deadly execution at 3,500 yards."

Battlefield Recovery Under Fire   Letter, First U. S. Army Group, NORMANDY: "A tank battalion used the following procedure to recover one of their tanks which had been immobilized only 200 yards from the German lines:

"An infantry platoon was placed in concealment in the hedgerow facing the German position and disposed so that its fire would cover the disabled tank. An 81-mm mortar was emplaced on the right flank of the infantry platoon. Then the tank recovery vehicle (T-2) started forward. Almost immediately a German machine gun opened fire but was silenced in short order by the mortar.

"When the recovery vehicle reached the disabled tank, the German infantry opened fire and moved forward, but the heavy fire from our infantry platoon, coupled with a concentration from the mortar, caused their precipitate retirement. The recovery vehicle hooked on to the tank and towed it to safety with no further difficulty and no casualties."


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