Day 5: Avaranches

Avranches

Today we will look at the break out by the allies on the Western side of the front in late July and early August 1944 Operation Cobra and Operation Bluecoat

Avranches is the focus of this part of the tour, but the route through Swiss Normandy is one of the most beautiful in France and worth the trip all by itself.

Once the Allies had established a secure front facing the Germans to the South of the bridgehead from Caen to St Lo the Build up of men and materials enabled the Americans on the Western end of the front to enter the Cotentin  and push the German forces in the Cotentin back to Cherbourg. On the fall of Cherbourg the Americans were able to turn their attention to the South. Here they were faced by the bocage country which was ideal country for defence. Here also the Germans had the formidable Panzer Leah  panzer Division facing the Americans and in prepared defensive positions. The plans for Cobra included a massive attack by heavy bombers on the area to the East of St Lo.ahead of the proposed advance of the Americans. Despite some setbacks due to losses on the American side from this bombing, the carpet bombing had the desired effect. The German defenders suffered and the Panzer Lehr SS marmoured division was very badly mauled to the extent that it never took the field again as a coherent unit.This removed a very dangerous enemy unit just at the moment it might have played a significant role in the outcome of Cobra.

It had long been the strategic aim of the Allies to break out of the Western end of the Front. and sweep the front to the South pivoted on Caen to the left. The danger in this was that the Germans might have overwhelming Armoured strength available to hold the breakout and to attack the exposed left flank of the Americans as they moved South. To guard against this the role of the British and Canadians was to keep up pressure on the German defenses around and to the west of Caen threatening to break out South and West of Caen where they launched Operation Epsom and Goodwood. By doing this they drew the main armoured reserve of the Germans to the East and away from the Americans in the West. Operation Bluecoat which began on 30th July was designed to punch a hole in the front line defence of the German front facing the British to the East of St Lo which was the focus of the American operation Cobra. The British had massed three armoured divisions, 11th Armoured Div, Guards Armoured Div and the 7th Armoured Div ( the deset Rats) along with the 15th Scottish infantry Div. Battle raged around the key high ground of Mont Pincon which was taken and retaken a number of times. The key action of Bluecoat took place near the village of St Martin Les Besaces. 11th Armoured forced its way south of St Martin despite fierce resistance from well placed Panzer jagers  and the danger of minefields sown by the Germans in the days before.Units of the 11th Armoured probing Southward took an intact bridge over the river Souleuvre South of St Martin. This bridge opened the door to the German rear and enabled the 11th Div and the Guards Div to begin to cause havoc behind the lines. German armoured reserves from the 21st Panzer Div and 10th SS and the 9th SS had to be drafted into the area to counter this new threat. These reserves became tied down as the Brittish poured south into the gap they had created. This was exactly the outcome which had been planned. These forces were not available to hinder Cobra, the American advance from St Lo southward to Avranches.nor to reinforce the defenders of the area South of Caen where operation Goodwood and Epsom were causing the Germans a great deal of difficulty. In addition the presence of the British North of Vire created a huge “Road block” baring the way to German reinforcements coming from the East. The British now threatened Vire which was essential to the German frontline, a threat which demanded a response, further tying down the few reinforcement available to the Germans. For the Americans The road was now open to Brittany via the bridge at Avranches. Operation Bluecoat, bloody and confused as it was, had achieved it objectives. Meanwhile George Patton’s 3rd US Army  made the most of the opportunity and soon threatened to invest Brittany and then go on to threaten the German rear by driving East towards the Seine.