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Saturday, June 09, 2018

you must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest...

With some spam:

In  one of the greatest intelligence failures of all time, neither G-2 (intelligence) at US First Army nor the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) G-2, nor any division S-2 (special staff intelligence) had ever thought to tell the men who were going to fight the battle that the dominant physical feature of the battlefield was the maze of hedgerows that covered the western half of Normandy.

The hedgerows dated back to Roman times. They were mounds of earth raised about each field, about two metres in height, to keep cattle in and to mark boundaries. Typically, there was only one entry into the small field enclosed by the hedgerows, which were irregular in length as well as height and set at odd angles, with beeches, oaks, and chestnut trees on the summit. On the sunken roads, which were shut in by clay banks, the brush often met overhead, giving a feeling of being trapped in a leafy tunnel.

How could the various G-2s have missed such obvious features, especially as aerial reconnaissance clearly revealed the hedges? Because the photo interpreters, looking straight down at them, thought that they were like English hedges-the kind fox hunters jump over-and they had missed the sunken nature of the roads entirely. "We had been neither informed of them or trained to overcome them," was Captain John Colby's comment.
There were, on average, fourteen hedgerows to the kilometre in Normandy. The enervating, costly process of making the attack, carrying the attack home, mopping up afterwards, took half a day or more. And at the end of the action there was the next hedgerow, 50 metres away. All through the Cotentin Peninsula, from June 7 on, GIs heaved and pushed and punched and died doing it-for two hedgerows a day. It was like fighting in a maze. Platoons found themselves completely lost a few minutes after launching an attack. Squads got separated. Just as often, two platoons from the same company could occupy adjacent fields for hours before discovering each other's presence.

Where the Americans got lost, the Germans were at home. The German 352nd Division had been training in Normandy for months. Further, they were geniuses at utilizing the fortification possibilities of the hedgerows. In the early days of battle many GIs were killed or wounded because they dashed through the opening into a field, just the kind of aggressive tactics they had been taught, only to be cut down by pre-sited machine-gun fire or mortars (mortars caused three quarters of American casualties in Normandy).

Yeah, these weren't just some decorative shrubbery, but a significant obstacle to Allied progress.  A big military lesson in cultural bias, and that's no joke...


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June 9, 2018 | Permalink


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