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203 CHAPTER 7 COBRA Sprouts Wings Smash of bombs from the sky, Thrust of doughboys hosts, Roar of rolling tanks, Crush defending posts. Fiercely drive on ahead! Westward turn to the sea! Swiftly swerve to the south! Boldly Dash to be free!1 The Plan, HQ, First Army, France, 12 July 1944 When Omar Bradley took over the US First Army in September 1943 he faced a threefold mission: (1) plan the American part of the ground invasion of Europe, (2) execute the landing and establish a strong beachhead, and (3) breakout. With the first two parts successfully accomplished by mid-­ July, it was now virtually impossible for the Germans to drive the Allies back into the sea, but stalemate and exhaustion remained real possibilities. Unfortunately, neither SHAEF nor the 12th Army Group had any specific plans beyond some general guidelines, such as the 12th Army Group staff plan Operation LUCKY STRIKE. COSSAC’s original plan, and all later revisions, focused on the rapid capture of Cherbourg and then suggested nothing further. The famous 15 May 1944 meeting of the top commanders at St. Paul’s School did not include any real discussion of a breakout, and the optimistic lines on the maps were for logistics planning purposes, bridging requirements, and other technical matters; they were not illustrative of expected combat operations. Bradley and Montgomery discussed a breakout plan during the lodgment phase near St. Lô simultaneous 204 Part II The Liberation of Europe with the attack on Cherbourg, but German resistance and a shortage of forces made that idea moot. Bloody fighting in the marshes and hedgerows continued until the last week of July, with total First Army casualties reaching nearly forty thousand men during that month alone. If First Army had not cracked through and broken out of the initial lodgment area, swinging wide to the right, the beachhead might have been Bradley’s last fight. The slow, expensive conquest of Cherbourg and the attritional warfare in the drive to St. Lô had been disappointing even though his superiors were supportive. Bradley’s answer to the loss of initiative and stalemate in the bocage, Operation COBRA, shaped the outcome of the European war no less than D-­ Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and the crossing of the Rhine. Its success opened the way for an Allied drive to the borders of the Third Reich in a breathtaking dash of just six weeks, called by the Normandy Campaign’s official historian “the most decisive battle of our war in Western Europe.”2 It was the crowning achievement of Omar Bradley’s service as an army commander, a model for the successful offensive out of a beachhead, and a case study of a leader-­ inspired operational plan executed by a trusted subordinate, characterized throughout by boldness, innovative tactics, and several risky gambles, including one that went very bad and one that worked very well. The stated objective of Operation COBRA was penetration of the enemy’s defenses west of St. Lô followed by exploitation with a strong armored and mechanized thrust deep into the enemy’s rear.3 The goal was to smash the German left flank defenses, liberate the Americans from the bad terrain, and dissolve the specter of static WWI-­ type trench warfare. A breakout opened the prospect of exciting, mobile maneuver, now forever associated with the name Patton and Third Army, though many other men and First Army units were greater practitioners of armored warfare. At its height, the breakout set the conditions that came incredibly close to encircling and destroying the German Seventh Army and propelled the Allies to their OVERLORD objectives well ahead of anyone’s honest expectations.4 Bradley’s plan, unlike the mythic goddess of wisdom, did not emerge fully developed from the mind of its creator but was formed and modified over a week of intense and solitary reflection in a large, wood-­ floored tent alight twenty-­ four hours a day and pitched next to the commander’s trailer and latrine . Chet Hansen set up a giant acetate map of Normandy so his boss could work over it at any time, day or night, standing up with colored pencils, marking key terrain features, drawing division and corps boundaries and possible attack routes—­ searching for a way to break out.5 Chapter 7 COBRA Sprouts Wings 205 Repeating his practice from Tunisia and Sicily, “he looks over the ground because he trusts no man to tell him what the country is like...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826273925
Related ISBN
9780826221360
MARC Record
OCLC
1002300081
Pages
490
Launched on MUSE
2017-09-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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