23 July, 2011

23 July, 1944


438th AAA AW BN
APO 403 % Postmaster, N.Y.
23 July, 1944         1030
Good morning, darling –

It’s Sunday morning and right at the moment, I haven’t a thing to do. Pete dropped over a few minutes ago and when he saw I was writing you he asked me to be sure and send his best regards to you and to thank you for remembering him. I always pass on your regards, dear, but usually forget the reverse.

Everything sees to be going along well – although somewhat slowly in this sector at present. We haven’t been getting the best break in the weather – but we will soon. News from all other sources is so good – I actually worry about it. If it hasn’t much background – there will be an awful let-down. The fact is it can’t last too much longer, darling – and you now what that means. In case you don’t – it means that even with sweating out an Army of Occupation – I’ll be coming home to marry you. Gosh I hope we aren’t being too optimistic. For the time being there’s still plenty of fighting around here – I’m afraid – but we’ve got the Jerries number – and they know it.

No mail again – but maybe today, sweetheart. Hope all is well at home, my love to the folks – and
My deepest love, dear


about Operation "Goodwood"

As a hush fell over the American front after the capture of St. Lô, intense activity began in the British sector. The British Second Army launched a strong attack, Operation "Goodwood", that promised the Allies an excellent chance of achieving a breakthrough. Had it succeeded, "Cobra" may not have been necessary.

"Goodwood" had grown indirectly out of the situation on the American front. At a conference on 10 July General Bradley had admitted to General Montgomery that he was discouraged about the offensive in the Cotentin Peninsula and that he was thinking of the new "Cobra" idea, not yet completely formulated. General Montgomery had advised him to "take all the time he needed" in the Cotentin. To assist, the British would continue the basic Montgomery pattern of action: attempt to draw the German strength away from the American sector, hold the eastern part of the front firmly and keep the enemy forces opposite the British engaged and off balance by limited objective attacks. Immediately after the conference, General Dempsey, the commander of the Second British Army, suggested that the British might take a more positive role in the campaign and launch a strong attack of their own. Montgomery's first reaction was negative, but on reflection he ordered planning started that same day. He alerted Dempsey to hold a corps of three armored divisions in reserve for a "massive stroke" east of the Orne River from Caen to Falaise. By 13 July three armored divisions were ready under control of the British 8 Corps.

By launching "Goodwood", the British would throw a left hook at the Germans; by following quickly with "Cobra" the Americans would strike with a right cross. The immediate objective of "Goodwood" was the rolling plain southeast of Caen, rising toward Falaise. Though neither Montgomery nor Dempsey mentioned Falaise specifically in their orders, they and other commanders were thinking of Falaise and even of Argentan as objectives perhaps quickly attainable if the battle developed favorably.

Meanwhile, to protect the open country around Caen, Eberbach, the German commander of Panzer Group West, had established a zone defense composed of infantry positions echeloned in depth and covered by antitank fire. The main battle positions, about 1,200 yards deep, consisted of three lines, while local reserves had organized another defensive line about a mile to the rear.

The two major deficiencies of the air bombardment launched earlier at Caen were to be corrected for "Goodwood". Only fighter-bombers were to attack in the zone where armored divisions were to make the main effort, and thus the extensive cratering that had slowed armor at Caen would be avoided. The ground troops were to attack immediately after the air strike in order to capitalize on the paralyzing effect of the bombardment on the Germans. While British naval units fired from the Seine Bay in support, bombers in the largest concentration yet utilized in direct support of a single ground attack loosed their explosives near Caen at daylight, 18 July. Almost 1,700 planes of the RAF Bomber Command and the U.S. Eighth Air Force, plus almost 400 medium and fighter-bombers of the U.S. Ninth Air Force, dropped more than 8,000 tons of bombs to open a path for British ground forces.

B-24 Liberator passes over area of mushrooming fragmentation
bombs, clearing out enemy troops and installations a few miles in
front of advancing British forces. Picture taken on 18 July 1944.

The 8 Corps of the Second British Army, employing three armored divisions, closely followed the air bombardment of 18 July and advanced over three miles in little more than an hour. Tactical surprise and the effect of the bombardment were responsible. Eberbach had not expected Montgomery, who had a reputation for caution, to make a major attack out of the narrow bridgehead he possessed east of the Orne. Even after the attack got under way, Eberbach could not really believe that it was the British main effort. Montgomery had achieved surprise by moving his assault divisions across the Orne only a few hours before the jump-off. With German troops destroyed or dazed by the bombardment, the divisions manning defensive positions in the bombed corridor were momentarily paralyzed. Despite valiant efforts to reorganize, they were unable to offer real resistance to the British armored attack. From about 0900 to noon, the 8 Corps was on the verge of achieving a clean penetration. Only when the British hit the enemy's antitank and flak guns on the last defensive line was the advance halted.

Recovering from the surprise by noon, Eberbach mobilized and committed four tank battalions and four infantry battalions of the 1st SS and 21st Panzer Divisions in a counterattack, which dispelled British hope of further immediate penetration. Though the British had lost 270 tanks and 1,500 men on the first day of attack, "Goodwood" continued on 19 July as the British endeavored to extend their gains by limited local attacks. Resistance continued strong, and the British that day lost 131 tanks and incurred 1,100 casualties. Further attempts to advance on 20 July, at a cost of 68 tanks and 1,000 casualties, resulted in little progress. When a heavy thunderstorm on the afternoon of 20 July turned the countryside into a quagmire, "Goodwood" came to an end. An ineffective German counterattack on 21 July signaled the close of the operation.

During the four-day attack, 8 Corps had secured thirty-four square miles of ground and the Canadian 2d Corps had captured the remainder of the city of Caen and part of the plain immediately to the southeast. The 8 Corps lost 500 tanks and over 4 ,000 men; tank losses in the entire operation totaled 36 percent of all British tanks on the Continent. Although territorial gains were small, particularly when compared with losses and with the expenditure of the air bombardment, Montgomery's attack by 20 July had exhausted Eberbach's reserves.

While the Germans, despite discouragement, were content that they had fought as well as they could, the Allies were far from happy. General Eisenhower had expected a drive across the Orne from Caen and an exploitation toward the Seine Basin and Paris. Montgomery had been more cautious in his anticipations. On the afternoon of 18 July, the first day of the attack, General Montgomery had been "very well satisfied" to have caught the enemy off balance. The effect of the air support seemed "decisive." The Second British Army had three armored divisions operating in the open country southeast of Caen, and armored cars and tanks, he thought, were threatening Falaise. Two days later, Montgomery judged that the purpose of the attack had been accomplished. The 8 Corps had advanced nearly six miles and taken 2,000 prisoners, all of Caen had been secured, and the Orne bridgehead had been more than doubled in size. General Montgomery on 20 July instructed General Dempsey to withdraw his armored troops into reserve and replace them with infantry.

To those in the Allied camp who had expected a decisive breakthrough and exploitation, expressions of satisfaction seemed hollow. Disappointment led General Eisenhower to write Montgomery on 21 July to question whether they saw "eye to eye on the big problems." He reiterated that the Allied needs were the Breton ports; increased space for maneuver, administration, and airfields; and the destruction of German military forces. He remarked that he had been "extremely hopeful and optimistic" that "Goodwood", by "tremendous air attack," would have a decisive effect on the battle of Normandy. That did not come about, and as a result, he was pinning his immediate hopes on Bradley's attack.

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