Breakout from the Beaches
After the successful invasion of Normandy, the Allied forces focused on moving farther inland and capturing strategic cities and ports. These included the port of Cherbourg, and the cities of Caen and St. Lô. The first city to be taken was Cherbourg because of its strategically important port. The port would be needed to supply the armies with supplies such as food and ammunition for future operations.
The battle for Cherbourg began on the morning of June 19, 1944 and would be conducted by VII Corps under the command of Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins. The plan was to attack the German positions with three divisions, the 4th, 19th and 9th. By June 24, the men of the VII Corps had reached the city and were ready for the final assault, which took place the following day on June 25, supported by a naval bombardment. Between June 26 and 27, the 79th and 9th Divisions worked to clear the city and German commanders began to surrender their commands. All resistance came to an end on June 27 at approximately 10:00 A.M., but victory came at the cost of over 12,000 Allied casualties from the three main assault divisions.
The Battle for Caen did not go as well. Originally Caen was supposed to be taken on June 6 by General Montgomery’s 21st Army Group to open up the land to the south of the beaches. During the Battle for Caen, Operations Epsom, Charnwood, and Goodwood all failed to capture the city and Caen was not captured until July 11. After almost a month of fighting, the devastation was horrible. Major Hargreaves wrote to his family: “I cannot describe the horror of that landscape. Cows, horses and humans had been lying out there for weeks, it being impossible to get out and bury them.”
Finally, on July 7, the battle to take St. Lô began. In his book D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, Anthony Beeover describes General Omar Bradley as seeing the “capture as essential ‘to gain suitable terrain from which to launch operation Cobra.’” Hedgerows in the area slowed the Allied advance down tremendously. Hedgerows were large mounds of dirt and vegetation separating fields that made it extremely difficult to spot the enemy and gave the Germans wonderful defensive positions. Finally, on the night of July 17, German forces evacuated the area, leaving St. Lô unprotected. On June 18, American troops entered the city. This secured the left flank of the Allied position and would allow for Operation Cobra to take place. However, Allied victory came at a cost as the United States suffered over 50,000 casualties in the hedgerows and city of St. Lô.