The Allied Breakout At St. Lo Was A Major Combat Victory For Omar Bradley.

by Daniel Russ on October 30, 2012

Post image for The Allied Breakout At St. Lo Was A Major Combat Victory For Omar Bradley. Lt. General Omar Bradley, US Commander, WWII


July 24, 1944; it has been seven weeks since the Allies opened a second front against the Third Reich in the daring invasion known as D Day. The Germans however had recovered from the initial shock and were able to cobble together an almost impervious defensive battlefield. The verdant rolling hills of Normandy were adumbrated with what the French called “boscages” or literally hedgerows. Hedgerows were the remnants of Norman landowners centuries in the past that marked their property boundaries by building embankments with stone and sand and mud, Roman style and then planting trees over them. The hedgerows became formidable obstacles for the Allied armored vehicles and trucks disembarking from heavy cargo ships in ports that the retreating Nazis had not already scuttled.


The Germans placed their famous 88mm PAK howitzers and the new Panzer Mark 7 King Tigers and Panzer Mark 6 Tigers into integrated self-supporting fields of fire. It was a bloody horrible mess as Patton and his newly released Third Army soon discovered. The 88mm shell would go into an M4 Sherman from two miles away at any angle and completely destroy it. The Brits soon came to call the gasoline powered Shermans “Ronsons” because like the lighters, they were always burning.  However the British did have an armored trump card up their sleeves. They equipped some 2200 M4 Shermans with the 17-pounder gun that proved itself to be the equal to the 88mm and knocked out dozens of Mark 5 Panthers, Mark 6nTigers and Panzer Mk 4s and Stugs at long distances.


The Germans also had a man portable anti tank gun; the forerunner to the RPG and it was called the Panzer Faust. These guns knocked out many Allied armor vehicles. The Allies came upon many caches of them and carried them into battle against the Germans.


On the Allies side there was little in the form of a Luftwaffe to defend the Germans who were  fighting to their last drop of blood. Allied P-47s and Hurricanes chewed up anything behind the German line that walked, limped, flew or drove. It was during the defense of the Normandy area where Rommel, who was conducting the defense, was gravely injured by a an Allied fighter bomber aircraft strafing his staff car. When he was wounded he was evacuated behind the lines and the German 7th Army was in chaos.


That said, the Germans were fighting to the last man. The Allied had advanced only ten miles inland and so Omar Bradley had a last breakout operation that he had to pull off. Period. It was called Operation Cobra. The idea was that Allied commanders would choose one small area of the German line that was intractable and pound it into submission. On July 24th, 300 fighter-bombers from Allied airstrips all over the front and heavy bombers from England would pulverize a 5-mile area outside of St. Lo. This is exactly what they did.

It was a great success. The US armored thrusts in the form of M4 Sherman tanks from Patton’s 3rd Army, and British M4s equipped with 17-pounders that rendered them as “Fireflies”. These up-armored Shermans gave as good as they got from the Germans.


General George S. Patton



St Lo. Breakout Bombardment B-24 Liberators Drop Their Deadly Payload On Germans Targets.


St. Lo After The Bombing. 7-25-1944 St. Lo After The Bombing.


Operation Cobra Operation Cobra



M4 Shermans Firefly With Distinctly Larger 75mm Gun M4 Shermans Firefly With Distinctly Larger 75mm Gun



Sources: Bradley, General of the Army Omar N. (1983). A General’s Life. Simon and Schuster; Green, Michael (1999). Patton and the Battle of the Bulge: Operation Cobra and Beyond.



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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Louis September 21, 2017 at 3:12 am

88mm PAK howitzers are not a thing. If it is a PAK (Panzer Abwehr Kanone (Anti-Tank gun)), it is a straight line high velocity canon, and not a Howitzer, which are low(er) velocity, indirect fire.
A Ronson is not always burning, it just “lights up the first time, every time”.
Both Tiger and Kingtiger were not encountered by the US in Normandy. Those tanks were concentrated on the British flanks, as that is where all but one of the Panzer Divisions were, thanks to the strategy of Montgomery, who bled his divisions white in constant attacks, in order to attract any and all German reinforcements, and to prevent them from forming a reserve.
And although the newer Shermans would have had the 76mm gun, which was a reasonable substitute for the 17pounder, it did not reach the US armoured units until after the shock of meeting more capable enemy tanks in Normandy.
Opinions about the carpet bombing are divided. Apart from friendly casulties, the ground was so roughed up that quick movement accros the targeted box was impossible, and the German division in and around it was able to hold on for some time.
The gun on the Sherman Firefly in the picture is a British 17-pounder, 3-inch (76.2mm) gun, and not 75mm as stated in the caption.

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