The Battle of Normandy

The battle of Normandy was one of the greatest military campaigns of the Second World War in the European theatre. The battle took place from June to August 1944 and was the beginning of the liberation of France.

 

After the landing operations, the troops began to push further inland.

On 7th June 1944, a unit of the British troops entered Bayeux without fighting. It was quite different in the area of Caen, where the attackers met fierce defence. Two attempts to bypass the town of Caen, which held the control of the routes to the Seine and to Paris, were a failure. British troops first attempted to bypass Caen via Tilly-sur-Seulles on 9th June 1944, and then via Villers-Bocages on 13th June 1944, but the Germans held their ground.

The objective for American troops was to take Cherbourg, which would provide the Allies with a deep water harbour. On 17th June 1944, the Americans reached Barneville-Carteret. This forced the Germans to retreat to the North of the Cotentin Peninsula. The town of Cherbourg was not taken until 26th June 1944; the harbour was completely destroyed.

The British troops, still stumbling upon German opposition in Caen, decided to make several massive air raids between 6th and 9th July 1944. This enabled Canadian and British troops to enter the town from the West and the North on 9th July 1944, but it was not until 18th July 1944 (operation Goodwood) that Caen was entirely in the hands of the Allies.

 

Caen in ruins counting its victims

 

The British and Canadians then moved on to Falaise.

 

The "Battle of the Hedgerows"

 

At the other end of the front, in the Cotentin Peninsula, the Americans took Saint-Lô on 18th July 1944, after a difficult and bloody war in bocage country to the south of Carentan. A week later, with the arrival of reinforcements and an improvement in the weather - which allowed for massive airborne intervention - Bradley, a senior US Army field commander, launched operation Cobra on 25th July 1944 and cracked the enemy lines.

The operation was a success and allowed the breakthrough to Avranches and the penetration into Brittany.

On 6th August 1944, the Germans launched a counter-attack in the region of Mortain in the direction of Avranches, in order to stall the American breakthrough. However Allied airborne attacks foiled this attempt. Bradley took advantage of the situation to initiate a pincer movement on the German troops present in Normandy. He was aided in this manoeuvre by the British, the Canadians, the French 2nd Armoured Division led by General Leclerc and the Polish 1St Armoured Division led by General Maczek, who fought alongside the Canadians. The German Army was caught in a large trap, the "Falaise Pocket" and surrendered.

 

Poche de Falaise : des prisonniers allemands se rendent aux Alli

The Falaise Pocket: German soldiers surrendering to the Allies in

Saint-Lambert-sur-Dives

 

The battle of Normandy ended on 21st August 1944. From then on, the Allies rapidly advanced into Higher-Normandy, Brittany and Pays de Loire...

 

With the contribution of Rémy Desquesnes
Historian