FIGHTING IN NORMANDY
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
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.
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"The tanks should not be advanced to the LD until the
time of the attack.
"Artillery observers should be with the leading wave of
"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
"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
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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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