24 July, 2011

24 July, 1944


438th AAA AW BN
APO 403 % Postmaster, N.Y.
24 July, 1944        1030

Dearest sweetheart –

Happy Anniversary! And now we’ve known each other an entire year. I do wish we could be celebrating together, darling – but maybe next year we’ll really tie one on. Boy – I sure would like to get fried, boiled, stewed – or just plain stinko! But with you – of course. I’ve had a bottle of Cognac for weeks now and the only part that’s gone is that which I gave my boys the nite I got it. Some of the men over here are really doing some plain and fancy drinking – but I’ll still reserve my drinking for special occasions.

Last nite we had a chance to see a movie, again. “The Uninvited” – with Ruth Hussey and R. Milland – a fair story. We had a few interruptions – which made it even more weird. I got a letter from Mary – with medallions galore for Pete and me. Also got one from Lawrence – of July 10 – but none from you, darling. I wonder if our mail is being held up again – and for what purpose.

Work at the hospital is still quiet – but they work it that way i.e. they flood them with cases for about 2½ - 3 weeks and then ease off for about 10 days. We should start working again soon.

So long for now, sweetheart, remember I LOVE YOU – and that I’m very very glad I love you – to put it in simple terms!! Love to all.

All my love to you –


about Operation Cobra's False Start

Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory had set the "Cobra" H-Hour at 1300, 24 July. On the morning of 24 July he went to Normandy to observe the operation and found the sky overcast with thick clouds. Deciding that visibility was inadequate for the air attack, he ordered a postponement. Unfortunately, he was too late. The message announcing his decision reached England only a few minutes before the actual bombing was to commence in France. Although the planes were ordered to return without making their bomb runs, it was impossible to get them all back. In accordance with the original planning, six groups of fighter-bombers and three bombardment divisions (about 1,600 heavy bombers) had departed their bases in England and headed toward France. Only the medium bombers, scheduled to bomb last, had not left the ground when the postponement order came. Of the six groups of fighter-bombers in the air, three received the recall order before they dropped their bombs. The other three bombed the general target area, a narrow strip, and certain targets north of the Périers-St. Lô highway, with no observed results. The postponement message to the heavy bombers kept back only a few planes in the last formation.

Ignorant that "Cobra" had been postponed, pilots of the great majority of the heavy bombers guided their big craft on toward the target. Because no precise radio channels had been designated for emergency communication, there was no certain means of transmitting the news of the postponement to these planes. While air force personnel in France attempted to get word to the craft aloft, the first formation of 500 heavy bombers arrived over the target area. Fortunately, they found visibility so poor that no attack was made. The second formation found cloud conditions so bad that only 35 aircraft, after making three bomb runs to identify the target, released their loads. Over 300 bombers of the third formation, with slightly improved weather conditions, dropped their bombs - about 550 tons of high explosive and 135 tons of fragmentation - before the postponement message finally got through to cancel the remainder of the strike.

The 24 July bombing was unfortunate, not only because of the likelihood of negating the surprise planned for "Cobra," but also because it killed 25 men and wounded 131 of the 30th Division.The tragedy was the result of one accident. The lead bombardier of a heavy bomber formation had had difficulty moving his bomb release mechanism and had inadvertently released a portion of his bombs over the wrong location. The fifteen aircraft flying in the formation followed his example and released their bombs. The bomb load fell 2,000 yards north of the Périers-St. Lô highway.

Dead and wounded of the 30th buried beneath an avalanche
of dirt thrown by the accidental bombing on 24 July 1944.
(Close-up, below)

Infantrymen and medics dig out a soldier half-buried
as a result of "friendly" aircraft hitting the 30th Division,
117th Infantry Regiment (also shown above).

Medics preparing the wounded for transport after
the bombing accident on 24 July 1944.

The bombardment accident released a flood of controversy. To provide additional protection for the ground forces, General Bradley had recommended that the planes make their bomb runs laterally across the front, parallel to the front lines, instead of approaching over the heads of American troops and perpendicular to the front. Recognizing that pilots preferred a perpendicular approach to minimize antiaircraft interference, he had suggested that the planes use the sun for concealment - if the attack occurred in the morning, the bombers could fly from east to west; in the afternoon, they could attack over a reverse course. In either case, the straight road between Périers and St. Lô would be an unmistakably clear landmark as a flank guide. Having expected a lateral approach to the target area, General Bradley was astonished and shocked when he learned that the planes had made a perpendicular bomb run. Using a perpendicular approach, Bradley said later, was an act of treachery on the part of the Air Forces, "a serious breach of good faith in planning." Other ground commanders had also anticipated a lateral approach, and their surprise was deepened by the horror that the news of casualties brought. But full agreement had never been reached.

On the ground, VII Corps had executed the initial part of the "Cobra" attack by withdrawing the front-line troops of the 9th and 30th Divisions several hundred yards to the north. The poor weather conditions had prompted commanders to wonder whether the lack of visibility would cancel the air bombardment, but General Collins was characteristically optimistic. He believed that the planes would get through the haze. Even if the heavy bombers were not able to take part in the air attack, he felt that the fighter-bombers would be on hand and that their bombardment would give sufficient impetus for the attack. He therefore told his subordinate commanders to go ahead. If the fighter-bomber effort proved insufficient, he expected the heavy bombers to return on the following day.

Word that the air bombardment had been postponed reached the ground troops just before the bombardment actually started. Why then had the bombs been dropped? Half an hour later General Collins learned that "Cobra" was postponed on the ground as well as in the air. However, Collins realized that the withdrawal of the 9th and 30th Divisions had created a vacuum that the Germans would fill unless the infantry returned to the vicinity of the Périers-St. Lô highway. Therefore, to prevent the enemy from moving north of the Périers-St. Lô highway, the three infantry divisions had to attack at 1300 as though "Cobra" were going into effect. In reality, the divisions were seeking to restore the front line that had existed before the air bombardment.

The abortive air bombardment on 24 July had obviously alerted the Germans to the American ground attack that followed. Enemy artillery fire began to fall in large volume. All three assault divisions had a difficult time that afternoon. On the corps right, the 9th Division committed its three regiments: the 60th Infantry battled enemy troops that had infiltrated behind the withdrawal; a reinforced battalion of the 47th Infantry struggled until dark to gain a single hedgerow; two battalions of the 39th Infantry fought eight hours to reduce a strongpoint and took 77 casualties. In the corps center, the 4th Division committed the 8th Infantry, which attacked in a column of battalions with tank support; after two hours of heavy fighting and a loss of 27 killed and 70 wounded, the regiment reached a point 100 yards north of the highway. On the corps left, the 30th Division did not advance at once because the assault elements were stunned and demoralized by the bombardment accident. It took almost an hour for the units to recover and reorganize, by which time enemy artillery fire had subsided. The division then advanced and reoccupied its original lines.

There was no time for recrimination on 24 July, for an immediate decision had to be made. Should General Bradley agree to another bombardment under the same terms and thereby indirectly condone the possibility of additional American casualties? Or should he insist on changing the pattern of air attack, which would mean postponing "Cobra" for several days at least? With higher headquarters anxious for action, General Bradley had little choice. The ground attack on the afternoon of 24 July had re-established the necessary "Cobra" conditions. Prospects for good weather on 25 July were improving. The question whether the premature bombing had lost the Americans tactical surprise was to be resolved at once: the Allies would launch "Cobra" again at 1100, 25 July.

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