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St. Lô, Breakout at

St. Lô, Breakout at (1944).After the successful D‐Day landing, by early July 1944 the World War II fighting in Normandy had become a costly slugging match. The British Second Army was still stalled in front of Caen and the American First Army was mired in the swamps and bocage (hedgerows) of the lower Cotentin Peninsula.

The First Army commander, Gen. Omar Bradley, in consultation with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery, and the U.S. VII Army Corps (under Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins) devised a plan to attack on a narrow front following massive air bombardment of the enemy lines.

Scheduled for 24 July, the bombers were launched, but bad weather in the target area—a rectangle 5,000 yards by 2,500—forced a postponement to the next day. A few planes did not receive the message and bombed anyway. Some bombs fell short, killing 25 and wounding 130 in the 30th Division.

On July 25—a bright, clear day—the attack of 2,000 heavy and medium bomber aircraft and 700 fighter bombers started about noon. Many bombs fell short and over 600 American casualties resulted. Lt. Gen. Leslie J. McNair, commander of army ground forces in the United States, on an observation visit to the front, was killed.

Despite the disorganization, only one regiment and one battalion were unable to attack on time.

The German Panzer Lehr Division and remnants of the German Fifth Parachute Division put up spirited resistance. By the end of the first day, the American infantry was only halfway through the bombed area, but the defense seemed uncoordinated and General Collins ordered the exploitation force to attack the next day. The breakthrough at St. Lô (25 July) and then at Coutances (28 July) opened the way for Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army to slash into Brittany and toward the Seine. Thus, the invasion of Normandy led to the liberation of France.
[See also World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

J. Lawton Collins , Lightning Joe, 1979.
Martin Blumenson , Breakout and Pursuit, 1984.

James L. Collins, Jr.

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